MILWAUKEE — Life for a young Black man born in the south in 1924 was far from easy. It was a time of racial hatred and discrimination, but Dr. William Finlayson always had his mind set on succeeding despite the odds. This is the story of a man.
Born in Florida, Dr. Finlayson grew up the son of a prominent Baptist preacher.
Even at an early age, he was brushing shoulders with greatness. He was family friends with Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune who went on to found what's now Bethune Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Part two of Andrea Williams' interview with Dr. Finlayson is below:
"She was the first Black in the cabinet, she was in the cabinet of Roosevelt," said Dr. Finlayson.
Long before making Milwaukee history, he was lectured in elementary school by one of America's greatest inventors and scientists, George Washington Carver. At the age of 16, he started his college career at Florida A&M, where his two older sisters were students.
"My father now had three kids in college. My senior who is now 102 lives with me."
While at FAMU, he pledged to Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. an organization that has continued to play a huge role in his life. Dr. Finlayson spent two years at FAMU and then served two years as a First Lt. in the Army.
"When I first went into the service, I taught illiterates how to read and write up to the 6th grade," recalled Dr. Finlayson.
After the military, he moved to Atlanta to attend Morehouse College as a Business major.
"In the midst of my business experience, I said this isn't for me. I was forced to make a transfer to get a major now in pre-med."
That's where he became classmates with the late great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who also became his fraternity brother. During the civil rights era, Dr. Finlayson invited him to Milwaukee to speak.
Dr. Finlayson graduated from Morehouse in 1948 and got his Medical Degree from Meharry Medical College in 1953. The 155 medical schools in existence at the turn of the century did not allow African Americans to attend. Meharry continues to graduate 15% of all Black physicians in the 21st century.
"To solidify it, I decided another year somewhere, so I heard about the University of Minnesota and a Fellowship." Dr Finlayson was well on his way to "delivering" major change.
In 1958, Dr. Finlayson had the choice to live in Chicago, Atlanta, or Milwaukee. Luckily, he chose Milwaukee.
"I'd heard about a group of guys who wanted to form a clinic," said Dr. Finlayson.
Those guys were Dr. Walter White, Dr. Randall Pollard, Dr. George Hillard, Urologist Dr. Gerald Poindexter and of course Dr. Finlayson. They started their practice on 5th and North, which is now the Greater Milwaukee Urban League. He later opened a practice on 20th and Capitol, which now houses WNOV Radio.
"I was there, and I had built a big practice. People would sit on the steps to come see me," said Dr. Finlayson.
He ultimately sold his practice when he decided to retire. Over 39 years he delivered nearly 10,000 babies, but Dr. Finlayson's contributions to the community didn't stop there. He also co-founded North Milwaukee State Bank in 1971 and served as Chairman of the Board for 26 of the over 40 years of the bank's existence.
"It did very well until the competitors kinda beat us out."
Dr. Finlayson broke many barriers as an African American. He became the first Black OB-GYN to practice in a Milwaukee hospital (St. Joseph's). He even invested in the Jewel Grocery Store that stood at 20th and Walnut.
"That's been the name of the game, I've tolerated this and in spite of that I became active in the community, I became President of the OB-GYN Honor Society," said Dr. Finlayson.
Dr. Finlayson and his late wife Edith had three children and they were indeed a power couple. She was also a community leader and the first African American to serve on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents.
"She got an honorary doctorate degree, and she became on the Board of Regents."
The couple had a few special houseguests over the years as well... Muhammad Ali, Alex Haley, and even Eartha Kitt.
"Yeah, Eartha Kitt's been here, she's been in my refrigerator," joked Dr. Finlayson.
The Brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha along with a few local pastors are currently working to get a street named in Dr. Finlayson's honor.
Andre Ash is a member of the fraternity.
"He's been a pillar of this community for many years, he was instrumental in bringing Dr. King here and I jokingly said to him, 'Well Doc, with all the things you've done in our community, here in Milwaukee, maybe we should erect a statue or maybe have a street named after you'", said Ash.
Dr. Finlayson was a member of the Milwaukee Medical Society and served as a house delegate to the Wisconsin Medical Society. He also taught at the Medical College of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin Medical School.
He is a past president of the Milwaukee Gynecological Society and served on the Board of Directors of the Southeastern Wisconsin Health System Agency. He is also a former president of his local YMCA board and a lifetime member of the NAACP.
His service to this community has certainly paved the way for many. Dr. Finlayson shared a message for the younger generation:
"I think the key is learning. Learn as much as you can, do as much as you can!"