This short biography was adapted and modernized from “The National Cyclopedia of The Colored Race”, published in 1919.
William Henry Coleman was one of the early generations of African American doctors.
He was born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1877. He attended school in Montgomery before moving to Selma to go to college at Payne University.
He qualified as a doctor in 1900 when he completed his studies at Meharry Medical College in Nashville.
Working through college
William Coleman had to work many jobs to put himself through his undergraduate studies and medical college.
He started off by working as a schoolteacher. But this income was inadequate to meet his expenses so he gave it up.
His next employment was that of Bell boy in a hotel. While this was not so dignified a position as teaching school, it added to his income and served his purposes better.
From Hotel bellman he became a Pullman Porter. These were men hired by railway companies to work as porters in sleeping cars.
Coleman’s work took him through the greater part of the United States and further into Canada and Mexico. This enabled him to save sufficient money to return to college and finish his medical studies.
But even when he was back at college, he had to scrimp and scrape.
The young man added to his fund by working as janitor of the college and filling other posts that would yield him a penny to carry forward his education.
First Medical Practice
When Coleman graduated from Meharry in 1900, he first began practice in Crawfordsville. Arkansas.
While the life of a country physician brought a rich reward in health and strength, he felt the call of a larger field.
So, after one year’s residence in Crawfordsville he removed to Bessemer, Alabama, where he opened an office in 1901.
When the Cyclopedia was published in 1919, it noted that Coleman’s practice had grown wonderfully during his eighteen years residence in Bessemer.
They also noted that he was as popular both as a physician and as a man.
He is inured to hard work and notwithstanding his large practice he finds time to devote to his social, civic, and religious duties.
He was an active churchman and made his personality felt in the Allen Temple A. M. K. Church.
Coleman was also a member of several black orders of Freemasons, including the Knights of Pythias and the Mosaic Templers.
Coleman’s working philosophy
He made it a rule to consider the problems of life with calmness and wisdom and never to yield to the suggestions of worry.
He realized that all action is followed by equal reaction and so he fortified himself against all depressive influences.
The reason why he is enabled to accomplish so much is that he carefully plans his work and works to a definite point.
One of his theories is, that the margin between success and failure is very small and that success is not so much due to great ability as the use you make of the ability you have, whether it be great or small.
While giving close attention to his patients and not neglecting the manifold duties crowding into the life of busy men, he continued his studies. Often the product of his pen finds its way to the medical journals.
In 1919, Coleman’s household also included his elderly mother.
He was married in 1914 to Miss Mattie Kirkpatrick of Nashville, Tennessee.
They lived in a modern home worth about $5000.00 (1919 valuation) and have investments in both residence and business property.
Other Early Doctors
William H Coleman was one of a pioneering group of early African American doctors.
Arthur Willis Davis also graduated from Meharry Medical College and