Source: Palmer Memorial Chapel
As a child, a trip to the doctor's office was sometimes a dreaded event. However, the fears of a child were often soothed by the kind gentle demeanor of Dr. Harry P. McDonald, the only black physician in my hometown of Ft. Smith Arkansas.
Though not the first, Dr. McDonald was the city's only black doctor for many decades. He served the African American residents from the 1950s, until 1990, when he retired. My memory of him, was that of a kind gentle man, whose office on North 29th street was well known by everyone in the Black community.
Office of H. P. McDonald on North 29th Street
Dr. McDonald was involved not only in maintaining the health of the Black community, he was also known as a community leader. From the NAACP where he served as the President for many years, to the many activities that he supported such as the Progressive Men's Club, Dr. McDonald was there and he was an inspiration to many in the community.
He was a man who fought for justice as much as he worked for the health of the community. He also fought blatant racist acts himself, such as the white citizens preventing his moving to a "white" part of the city. He also continued to fight when he attempted to join the city's school board, and the townspeople called an emergency meeting of friends from all over the city to quickly rush to the meeting just to vote against him. In spite of these indignities directed towards him, Dr. McDonald continued to fight for the rights and dignities of all people. He worked with leaders from Daisy Bates to then Governor Clinton. His work for justice was just as important as his work for quality health care of his patients.
From treating minor health issues like a case of hives, to treating patients needing emergency surgery, he was there. He faced patients with many needs from hypertension to diabetes, to cancer. Dr. McDonald was the face of reassurance that good treatment would always be given to the Black community. He was also one of the few doctors of his time that many of us will recall as one who made house calls. Black residents of Ft. Smith always knew that they would be treated with kindness and dignity.
Many of us from Ft. Smith remember him in the first office on North 9th Street. He would later move to the larger office on North 29th street.
The North 9th Street office site of Dr. H. P. McDonald
Many of us never knew Dr. McDonald the man. Those memories and loving thoughts are the treasures left behind for his family who knew him lovingly as a father and husband.
However, the city knew him by his actions and we embrace and celebrate the legacy that he left. He will be missed and we are grateful not only for his services as a physician, but also for his leadership during those harsh years of segregation. We appreciate the leadership that he showed during the years of struggle for equality, and we shall remember his for being simply a friend to the community.
Many natives of Ft. Smith, now live in many states across the country, but as we reflect upon our childhood in that small city, Dr. Harry P. McDonald played a role in the lives of most of our families.
Rest in Peace Dr. McDonald. A grateful community will never forget you.