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Boy finds a hero in black history

February 18, 2007|David Dishneau | Associated Press Writer

FREDERICK, MD. — Black history was not on 10-year-old Sam Williamson's mind when he decided to research the life of Ulysses Grant Bourne for a student essay contest.

Sam, who is white, said he picked Bourne, the first black doctor in Frederick County, for a simple reason. On the list of local figures offered by the county historical society, "he had the coolest name."

But Sam became enthralled by Bourne's early 20th century achievements, which included founding the county chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, establishing a hospital for blacks in the then-segregated city of Frederick and, nearly as impressive to the basketball-crazed Sam, getting the Harlem Globetrotters to play here in a church basement and eat dinner at the doctor's house.

Sam won $100 in the contest last school year, and he went on to raise $19,000 for a bronze bust of Bourne that will be placed at Frederick Memorial Hospital.

"I wanted the whole world to know what he did and how good of a role model he was," said Sam, a fifth-grader at Ballenger Creek Elementary School.

Sam also gained an honorary grandmother -- Bourne's 83-year-old daughter, Dr. I. Blanche Bourne, who is tickled by the attention Sam's efforts have brought to her father's work.

"He's quite a boy," she said.

Sam's mother, Leslie, a middle-school math teacher, joked that Sam, the youngest of the four Williamson children, knows more about Bourne's family than he does about her Jewish heritage or his father's Irish and Welsh ancestry.

Ethnic and racial distinctions don't matter much to Sam, whose school is 77% white and 14% black, with a smattering of Latino and Asian students. Like others in his class, he studied America's struggles with slavery and civil rights, but it was Bourne's accomplishments, not the obstacles he overcame, that fascinated Sam.

"To do all the things that he was able to do was amazing," Sam said.

He learned that Bourne delivered about 2,600 babies, black and white, from 1903 to 1953. Sam was surprised that the doctor allowed his patients, most of whom were white, to pay for his services with fruits and vegetables.

Bourne's generosity extended to education, Sam learned: "He paid for someone to go to college, and when they graduated from college, they would pay him back."

Because black patrons weren't allowed in the local opera house, Bourne and his friends built their own elegant music venue, the Pythian Castle.

Bourne and a nurse did public health work around the county, Sam learned.

Bourne, a native of Calvert County, Md., who attended Leonard Medical School in Raleigh, N.C., founded the statewide Negro Medical Society in 1940. He also ran as a Republican for the state House of Delegates and worked behind the scenes for local candidates, Sam learned from Bourne's daughter.

"He was quite a community-minded person, very open and selfless, and was quite involved with everything around here in a quiet way," said Blanche Bourne, a retired pediatrician who is the youngest of Bourne's three children.

Sam's fundraising campaign for a Bourne memorial included letters to local political leaders and speeches to civic groups including the NAACP, which gave $1,000.

"Anyone talking to him about the project was moved by this young man who knew exactly what he wanted to achieve," said Guy P. Djoken, the NAACP chapter president.

The biggest single donation, $11,000, came from the Mid-Maryland Musculoskeletal Institute, a medical practice composed of 11 physicians. Chief Operating Officer Quinten M. Davis, who is black, said he was touched by Sam's dedication.

"The zeal with which this young fellow has approached this goes far beyond just a school project," Davis said. "It would be nice if there were more people who worked to understand the different cultures within our community."

Sam's work isn't done. He still needs about $1,500 for a pedestal to hold the bust that artist Steven Weitzman is making. The sculpture should be finished this summer, Leslie Williamson said.

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