By Cassandra Lans
Five hundred African American trailblazers descended upon classrooms in 107 cities and 34 states across the United States including Puerto Rico on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011 as part of the 2nd Annual Back to School with the HistoryMakers program. The one day program, which comes as students are getting settled in classrooms throughout the country is designed to bring renewed attention to the needs of the nation’s educational system and its students.
This year’s participants included such notables as; Senior Advisor to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, former Ambassador Andrew Young, entertainer Common, activist and talk show host the Rev. Al Sharpton and for Milwaukee co-founder of North Milwaukee State Bank and retired physician Dr.William Finlayson and Negro League baseball legend Dennis Biddle.
Dr. Finlayson and Biddle spoke to students at Holy Redeemer Christian Academy. Biddle shared some of the struggles that he faced on his road to accomplishing his career in baseball. Biddle’s career in baseball began in 1953 when he was seventeen years old. He was playing in the state championship in Arkansas for the National Farmers’ Association. A scout and booking agent for the Negro League Chicago American Giants saw him pitch a no-hitter in the championship and asked him if he would like to try out with the Chicago American Giants. Biddle played for the Chicago American Giants in 1953 and 1954. Because he was only seventeen years old when he played, Biddle was entered into the Congressional Record as the youngest person to play in the Negro baseball leagues. In 1955, the Chicago Cubs were interested in purchasing his contract from the Chicago American Giants. Unfortunately, on the first day of spring training, Biddle jammed his leg and broke his ankle in two places while sliding into third base. The injury never fully healed and Biddle’s baseball career ended.
At the age of twenty-two, Biddle went back to school in 1958. He received his B.A. degree in social work from the University of Wisconsin. Biddle worked for the next twenty-four years with the State of Wisconsin as a social worker in the corrections system. After retiring from the corrections system, he began working for a social service agency called Career Youth Development. In this capacity, he continues to work with the same type of youth he worked with when he was a social worker.
In 1996, Biddle founded the organization, Yesterday’s Negro League Baseball Players LLC to support the surviving members of the Negro League baseball teams and defend their economic interests.
Dr. Finlayson also shared his education and career experiences with the students. Obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. William Edward Finlayson was born on September 1, 1924 in Manatee, Florida. Finlayson served as a 1st Lieutenant in the United States Army from 1943 through 1946 and served in the Army Reserves from 1946 to 1953. He received his B.S. degree from Morehouse College in 1948 and his M.D. from Meharry Medical College in 1953. Finlayson completed his residency at the University of Minnesota in 1958.
After his residency ended, Finlayson established his own private practice in Milwaukee, WI in 1958. He continued to practice medicine for nearly the next forty years (from 1958 to 1997). Finlayson also held two fellowships: one at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist in 1963 and the other at the American College of Surgeons in 1964. He also taught at the Medical College of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin Medical School.
In 1971, Finlayson founded the first Black-owned bank in Milwaukee: North Milwaukee State Bank. He also serves on the board of directors and is the bank’s chairman. In founding the bank, Finlayson’s mission was not profit based. Rather, he intended to add stature and viability to underserved communities by offering full-service banking to individuals and businesses. North Milwaukee State Bank’s mission is to facilitate community development and economic growth, personal and business advancement, home ownership growth, and financial education.
Finlayson is a member of the Milwaukee Medical Society and a house delegate to the Wisconsin Medical Society.
He is a past president of the Milwaukee Gynecological Society and serves on the board of directors of the Southeastern Wisconsin Health System Agency. Finlayson is also a former president of his local YMCA board. He is a member of the Urban League and a lifetime member of the NAACP.
Finlayson also shared with the students some photos of himself as a child and even a photo taken with himself and fellow Morehouse man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and friend and fraternity brother.
“Our HistoryMakers embody our commitment to education and are a wonderful example of true service-service that can literally change the course of the lives of thousands of young people,” said The HistoryMakers founder and executive director Julieanna Richardson. “This is just the beginning as we are making our digital collection of more than 8,000 hours of video testimony available, free of charge to all participating schools.”