The African-American experience in columbus blog
This blog features brief articles on the African-Experience in Columbus from the Underground Railroad to the civil rights era.
By Doreen Uhas Sauer
In 1988, Columbus physician Dr. William Kenneth Allen wrote a historical recollection of African American “pioneer” physicians in Columbus. These physicians worked in an era when diagnosis and compassion had to take the place of antibiotics and antihypertensive medicine. They were also pioneers who “chipped away at the wall of racial discrimination and were an important part of the historical fabric of our city.”
One of the physicians he profiled was Arthur Kelton Lawrence, born in 1875 (died in 1954) in Columbus. If his name is familiar it is because his middle name, Kelton, was given to him by his parents, Thomas and Martha Lawrence, to recognize that his parents met under extraordinary circumstances.
Thomas Lawrence was employed by the Kelton family, and Martha was a sickly child who was found “in the bushes,” while passing through Columbus on the Underground Railroad. After their marriage in the front parlor of the Kelton House, they received a gift of land from the Kelton family in what is now the American Addition. Today the Kelton House, a well-known house museum on Town Street, recognizes the family’s history and the many blacks and whites who served as conductors on the Underground Railroad.
Dr. Lawrence attended Columbus Public Schools, graduated from the College of Pharmacy at Ohio State and completed his M.D. in 1907 at Starling Ohio Medical College. He served in the Spanish-American War as a hospital steward.
He left Columbus in 1907 to take on a partnership in private practice in Kansas City, and later Wichita where he made house calls on a motorcycle—and later purchased an auto, first a coupe and then a touring sedan. He married a girl from Oklahoma and they had two sons.
When advised his mother was seriously ill, Dr. Lawrence returned to Columbus in 1921 by car. Because of unpaved dirt roads, he constructed a hammock that hung from the car’s ceiling to transport his youngest infant son.
Upon his return to Columbus, Dr. Lawrence set up practice in the Williams Building, 681 East Long, re-joined Second Baptist Church where he served as senior choir director and taught Sunday School, and was a member of the Masonic Lodge, the Columbus Academy of Medicine, the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the NAACP and other groups. In 1941 he was appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt as the examining physician for the Franklin County Local Draft Board.