The Milwaukee road between West Capitol Drive and West Walnut Street — formerly North 5th Street — will now be known as Dr. William Finlayson Street.
Finlayson, a beloved obstetrician and gynecologist who has practiced for nearly 40 years, has welcomed thousands of infants worldwide. The Florida-born doctor became the first black OB-GYN to work at St. Joseph’s Hospital, now Ascension Southeast Wisconsin Hospital – St. Joseph.
Along with delivering thousands of babies, Finlayson was a champion for ending housing discrimination, financial literacy, and preserving black history.
In light of his indelible impact on the community, Common Council voted on Tuesday to rename the street in honor of Finlayson, where Alderman Russell Stamper III described Finlayson as a legend in the city, county and country. .
Alderman Milele Coggs echoed that sentiment, saying, “Dr. Finlayson’s impact and influence are felt through the lives and works of so many in the city of Milwaukee, and I am honored to have a street in Bronzeville named after him.
Early influences shaped Finlayson’s path
Although he was born in 1924, at a time when overt racism hampered the advancement of many African Americans, Finlayson’s success was in many ways predictable due to his personal drive and early influences, according to an oral history he gave in 2008.
Finlayson’s mother, Alba, had completed several years of college and taught in Orlando at Jones High School. His father, James, was a respected and well-known Baptist preacher. In elementary school, one of his teachers was black inventor and scientist George Washington Carver. And one of his childhood friends at Campbell High School was a girl who would go on to found Bethune-Cookman University, Mary McLeod Bethune.
Surrounded by these influences, Finlayson excelled educationally, attending Florida A&M, the historically black college of his two older sisters, at the age of 16.
He spent two years there, enlisting with the Alpha Phi Alpha Brotherhood, before serving in the US Army for two years. There he taught illiterate black soldiers to read at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was promoted to second lieutenant.
While serving in the Army Reserves between 1946 and 1953, Finlayson also attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he was classmates with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Finlayson calls Milwaukee home
After changing his initial major to business, Finlayson graduated from Morehouse College as a pre-med student in 1948. He took a year to work with his half-brother while waiting tables in dining cars on the way of Ohio, before resuming his studies at Meharry Medical College. .
By 1957, Finlayson had been mentored by obstetrician Carr Treherne and began residency at the University of Minnesota Medical School. When he graduated, he had three choices of where to go: Chicago, Atlanta, or Milwaukee.
He chose Milwaukee.
In Milwaukee, he began practicing at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Mt. Sinai Hospital, and the University of Wisconsin Medical School. And with a group of other physicians – Walter White, Randall Pollard, George Hillard and Gerald Poindexter – he went into private practice.
He moved to Milwaukee with his late wife, Edith, who later received congressional recognition for her work in Milwaukee. Edith, also the child of a Baptist minister, became the first black board member of the University of Wisconsin and the first black nurse in the Milwaukee Veterans Administration. Edith has also been active with the Greater Milwaukee Committee, Milwaukee Area Technical College, National Council of Christians and Jews, Milwaukee Urban League, NAACP, and Milwaukee Regional Medical Center.
But almost immediately they were discriminated against.
Like other black doctors, Finlyason was initially prohibited from treating white patients. He was also turned down when he tried to buy land in an all-white neighborhood, which led to him joining fair housing marches led by Alderman Vel Phillips and Father James Groppi in the 1980s. 1960.
He even invited his former classmate, King, to speak in Milwaukee. As Coggs noted, “(Finlayson) was often instrumental in bringing MLK to the city of Milwaukee.”
Finlayson also founded the city’s first black-owned bank, the North Milwaukee State Bank, in 1971 and for several years served on the bank’s board of directors. He founded the WEB Du Bois Club to educate high school students in financial skills and black history, even visiting Ghana, the last country Du Bois called home.
Throughout his career, Finlayson served as president of the Cream City Medical Society, the Milwaukee Gynecological Society, and its local YMCA Board of Directors. He has also served as Vice President of United Community Services (now United Way of Greatest Milwaukee & Waukesha County), Delegate to the Wisconsin Medical Society, and Fellow of the National Urban League and Life Member of the NAACP.
Finlayson has officially retired from his practice after 39 years of working with patients.
The streets that once housed his practice are now home to other culturally significant organizations: the Greater Milwaukee Urban League is located where North 5th Street and West North Avenue once practiced, while radio station WNOV has replaced his practice on North 20th Street. and West Capitol Drive.
The elevation of Finlayson’s name follows other efforts to highlight the contributions of black pioneers, including streets renamed to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Vel R Phillips and recognition by the service of Milwaukee fire by architect Alonzo Robinson Jr.
However, Coggs said this particular street name change was made more special by the presence of Finlayson.
“We are fortunate to present Dr. Finalyson with his flowers while he is here,” Coggs remarked. “At 98, I am proud that we have the opportunity for him to bear witness and know the appreciation that so many of us have for the contributions he has made in the lives of so many people.”
Finlayson was present at the vote along with his daughter and two sons — Sheila, Reginald and James — as well as several prominent Milwaukeeens, including his fraternity brother Andre Ashe and pastor Reverend Monk of Ephesians Missionary Baptist Church.
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