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Beloved Milwaukee physician recalls his career of advocacy for African-American community

Posted at 9:40 PM, Jun 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-17 10:38:07-04

William Finlayson lived through the Great Depression, served in the military during World War Two, and was subjected to Jim Crow laws to become one of Milwaukee’s most beloved OBGYN doctors and advocates for civil rights.

We recently sat down with Dr. Finlayson to learn more about his accomplishments and to get his thoughts on how COVID-19 has changed our lives.

"I had a large practice across-the-board, said Dr. Finlayson when reminiscing about his practice.

When doctor Finlayson arrived to Milwaukee in 1958 with his wife and firstborn he recalls a divided city.

"Housing segregation was a problem, school segregation was a problem," he said.

As an African American OBGYN physician, he wasn't welcomed in the city’s best hospitals. However, Dr. Finlayson remained determined and became the first black doctor to have admitting privileges at St. Joesph’s Hospital and Mount Sinai.

Dr. Finlayson served the community for 39 years, delivering hundreds of babies.

"As a result of that I managed to get some of my patients in some of the best hospitals in the city," he said.

Through the years Dr. Finlayson found himself using his influence and affluence to make a difference for all.

"You have to be involved in the community that you live in obviously but that’s not enough you’ve got to be involved with the entire community."

The 1960s were tumultuous times. In 1964 he asked a friend and classmate of his at Morehouse College - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr to speak in Milwaukee

Now at 95-years-old, Dr. Finlayson reflects on the mass protest and the current cries for change in the death of George Floyd.

" I have been impressed and surprised. Much greater diversity than I have ever seen," said Dr. Finlayson.

Before Milwaukee, Dr. Finlayson spent one year during his residency in Minneapolis. And though he believes Minneapolis is a progressive city he admits he still encountered discrimination.

He recalls the night he and his family looked for a hotel to stay the night.

"They said they had vacancy but they turned us down and we drove a little further distance - a white couple came up to us and said I saw what happened to you back there I’m gonna make sure you get a place to spend the night here."

Dr. Finlayson has seen a lot over the years. As a physician, he is aware of the health concerns among minorities but says COVID-19 has put a spotlight on health and income disparities.

"I suspect that as a result of this we are going to see a great deal of enthusiasm to make sure that we have health for everyone," he said.

Dr. Finlayson believes COVID-19 and race relations are two issues America will need to resolve sooner rather than later.

" If the total community accepts the fact that we are one people that we are all alike and we have the same aspirations for ourselves for our kids for the country then i think that’s the solution."

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