Son of Former Slave Becomes Successful Physician
As I was sitting in my office at the Wheatland town hall on a late summer Tuesday afternoon, a distinguished looking woman approached the doorway and asked, “Are you the historian?” She went on to tell me that she had driven from Washington D.C. to talk with me and to explore the Scottsville area. Her name is Mary Helen Thompson, and she is the granddaughter of Frank Thompson who was born in Scottsville, the son of a former slave who had migrated from Culpeper, Virginia after the Civil War. Mary Helen later sent me this biography of Frank Thompson. It is a remarkable story of a young man of courage, determination and outstanding ability. Here is the story in her words:
Frank F. Thompson Sr., MD (1887-1964)
Frank French Thompson was born February, 1887, in Scottsville, New York, a small farming community in Monroe County not far from Rochester. Both his father and his mother migrated north from Culpeper County, Virginia after 1880. His father, Albert, a farm laborer, was born into slavery in 1859 and his mother, Mollie Turner, was born about 1868, just after the Civil War. Mollie’s father, Fielding Turner (1830-1895) of Culpeper, Virginia, fought in the Civil War for the Union Army in the 20th US Colored Troops.
Frank was expected to become a farm laborer like his father. However, Frank had a brilliant mind, a thirst for higher education and from an early age, aspired to become a physician. He always recounted the story that he and his father were down in a ditch, digging away, when the bell pealed for the first day of school. He kept digging that day and the next, but on the third day, with tears in his eyes, told his father that he simply had to disobey him and go to school. His father, Albert, told him that he would have to step over him to do so. Young Frank struck his father down, leapt out of the ditch and defiantly went to school with the help of his Aunt Millie, his father’s sister, who worked for a wealthy white family in the community and garnered their support. Millie Alexander is pictured to the right with her husband John.
Frank graduated from Scottsville High School in 1904 and entered Syracuse University, graduating in the class of 1909. In 1907, he and another student were inducted into the “jewel” chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, which originated at nearby Cornell University in December 1906. Needless to say, it was a huge source of family pride that he was “almost” a jewel and a devoted “Alpha Man.” Frank entered Syracuse Medical School but due to the rampant discrimination of the times, he transferred to Howard University Medical School, receiving his MD in 1912.
Frank moved to Montclair, New Jersey where he practiced medicine for over 50 years. In 1915, he married Julia Ellen Ruffin of Warrenton, Virginia, daughter of the Rev. Robert Logan Ruffin and Mary Turner Jordan. Frank and Julia had two children—Frank French Thompson, Jr. (1916-1966) and a daughter, Julia (1921-2009). Julia, also a graduate of Howard University, both undergrad and masters degrees, married Dr. John L. Pinderhughes. Frank F. Thompson, Sr., MD died in 1964 leaving a rich legacy of service to his family and community.”