Pioneering black doctor championed equal rights

Anthony Neal | 8/8/2012, 10:16 a.m.
Dr. James Thomas Still, an eminent African American...

He was not a wealthy man; nonetheless, he ensured that each of his children received the best education he could afford. He and his family typically kept to themselves and rarely attended social gatherings, though they were members of the Twelfth Baptist Church on Phillips Street.

On Oct. 5, 1883, Still became a vocal critic of the local Republican Council when it rejected Governor Benjamin F. Butler’s nomination of Edwin G. Walker as the first black judge of the Municipal Court of Charlestown. Edwin Walker was the only son of the famed abolitionist David Walker. Still, who had supported his nomination said, “The Republican Party has been for years promising the colored voter recognition, but the moment an occasion occurs for a practical demonstration of their faithfulness to promises, they desert a man simply because of his color.” He added, “I sincerely look for a fitting rebuke by the colored voters of Massachusetts and the exposure of Republican hypocrisy.” Right after Governor Butler’s nomination of Edwin Walker was rejected by the Republican Council, the former Democrat turned Radical Republican did in fact appoint the first African American judge to the Municipal Court of Charlestown — George Lewis Ruffin.

Still was a profound man who understood that wrongdoers rarely have a tolerance for the truth. In 1888 he said, “The world’s history has long taught me to know the penalty awaiting new exponents of the truth, who are lovers of their neighbors.”

Later in his career, Still relocated his medical practice to 82 West Cedar St. He was Boston’s most widely known and respected black physician, as well as one of the city’s most skillful. More for the love of his profession than for what it paid, he attended to sick black Bostonians up until the time of his death. He passed away after a short illness from kidney disease on June 22, 1895 at his West End home on North Anderson Street, three weeks before his 55th birthday. Dr. James T. Still was survived by his wife and six of their nine children.