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Dr. Arthur M. Townsend

Just a few days ago, I blogged about finding the marriage notice for Dr. A.M. Townsend, a graduate of Meharry Medical College. The other day, while browsing the NYPL Digital Images collection, I happened upon a picture of him. You can click here for further details, but this image appears in the book “The Negro in Medicine” published in 1912 by John Kenney.


I decided to take a look for Mr. & Mrs. Townsend in the census and locate them as follows:

1910 – Found them living in Nashville, though I can’t make out the street name. Interestingly enough, Arthur’s name is enumerated as “James M.” – he is 35 years old. Willa is listed as being 31 years old. They indicate they have been married 8 years, which matches the information from Meharry News. His occupation is listed as a doctor of medicine. Willa has one child and that one child is living – he is Arthur M. Jr. and is six years old. They also have staying with them a female cousin, Flora Darrell who is 20 years old. [Link to full image if you have an Ancestry.com membership] [1]

1920 – He and wife Willa are living in Memphis, Shelby County, TN. He is 44, she is 39 and they have Arthur M. Townsend Jr. who is 16 years old. His job is listed as Minister of a church, and she as a private school teacher. They reside at 1044 Mississippi Avenue. Also in the residence with them are cousins Floy J. Johnson (35 year old male), Lee A. Johnson (35 year old male), and Sallie Darrell (24 year old female). Accompanying the family is a 14 year old female boarder named Bessie Terrell. Floy is a teacher, Lee is a physician who was born in Mississippi, and Sallie is a teacher as well. [Link to full image if you have an Ancestry.com membership] [2]

1930 – He and wife Willa are living at 738 Cedar Street in Nashville. He is 54 years old, she is 49. They indicate they have been married 27 years, which matches the date that the Meharry News reported for them in 1902. His occupation is listed as Medical Physician. [Link to full image if you have an Ancestry subscription] [3]

Some additional web searching reveals additional information about the family. Arthur’s middle name was Melvin [4]. In 1910, he was president of the Rock City Academy of Medicine here in Nashville and the organization held annual summer clinics to provide free medical care for blacks to circumvent blacks going to white medical facilities where they believed blacks were subject to experimental treatments [5].

The online version of Profiles of African-Americans in Tennessee has a great biography of Dr. Townsend and details his accomplishments, including that he was President of Roger Williams University from 1913 to 1918 [6].

He died April 20, 1959 and I learned from an obituary I located in the Chicago Defender that the cause was a heart attack [7]. I also learned from the obit that the reason he went to Memphis was to pastor at the Metropolitan Baptist Church. He moved to Memphis in 1918, and returned to Nashville in 1920. Over 1,000 people attended his funeral and he is buried in Greenwood Cemetery. I’ve searched FindAGrave and do not find him listed, so I’m off to add him.

[1] 1910; Census Place: Nashville Ward 19, Davidson, Tennessee; Roll: T624_1496; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 68; Image: 380.
[2] 1920;Census Place: Memphis Ward 14, Shelby, Tennessee; Roll: T625_1764; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 150; Image: 236.
[3] 1930; Census Place: Nashville, Davidson, Tennessee; Roll: 2239; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 17; Image: 907.0
[4] Who’s Who in Colored America: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Persons of Negro Descent in America. New York, N.Y.: Who’s Who in Colored America Corp, 1927. [Link to Google Books snippet]
[5] Ward, Thomas J. Black Physicians in the Jim Crow South. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2003. [Link to Google Books preview]
[6] Lovett, Bobby L., and Linda T. Wynn. Profiles of African Americans in Tennessee. Nashville, Tenn: Annual Local Conference on Afro-American Culture and History, 1996. [Available online]
[7] 1.000 at Townsend, Sr. Funeral. Chicago Defender. 28 Apr 1959.

Leave a comment


  1. Arthur M Townsend, IV

     /  April 12, 2008

    Thanks for the blog on my family history. Was really surprised to see it. This is a really nice site. Take care.

    • Cori Howard

       /  February 10, 2011

      I am doing research on your father and am interested to see if you could share anything.


  2. glenda

     /  August 18, 2010

    did the son do an interne at city hospital #2 in st.louis mo in 1928-1929? did he have a nickname ” hope” or “horse?

    if so, please contact me asap

  3. glenda

     /  August 18, 2010

    I have info on the son please contact me

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