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Trailblazer Dr. Jerry B. Callahan

Read his life story and the word “Trailblazer” immediately comes to mind. Arriving in Orlando at the age of 23, at a time when the city still referred to itself as The Phenomenal City, Dr. Jerry B. Callahan, fresh out of Leonard Medical College of Raleigh, North Carolina, established the city’s first African American medical practice. Not only had he graduated from the first school of medical in the United States to offer a four-year curriculum in medicine, Leonard Medical, now part of Shaw University, had also been the first to open their curriculum to African American students.

When he arrived in 1907, Americans were just beginning to get acquainted with personal motorized automobiles. The horse and buggy remained the favorite form of local transportation for the ever-growing population. Orlando would be home to 3,894 citizens by 1910, and not until 1915 would The Dixie Highway set sights on the remote Orange County seat.

Within a year of Dr. Callahan’s arrival, the city’s slogan changed to The City Beautiful as the new doctor in town set out to build his Orlando medical practice. He purchased four town lots west of Division Street on 29 September 1908 – but eventually settled at 243 West Church Street, where I-4 now carries traffic across Church Street.

Photo above: February 2013 opening of the Dr. J. B. Callahan Exhibit. left to Right are: Grace Chewning of Orlando Remembered, Sara Van Arsdel, Ex. Director of Orange County Regional History Center; Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer; Texann Ivy Buck, Exhibit Creator and Orlando Remembered member.

Dr. Jerry B. Callahan’s practice spanned four decades by the time of his death in 1947, and during these 40 years as an Orlando Physician, he established himself as a highly respected and surgeon. He was described by those who knew the man as an outstanding citizen, a champion of his adopted hometown of Orlando, and a charitable man forever eager to support worthy civic projects.

Praised by other Orlando physicians for his skill and ability as both a practitioner and surgeon, Dr. Callahan earned yet another first, the first Black surgeon to use the operating room at Orange Medical Hospital.

Above photo: n Orlando downtown neighborhood west of Interstate 4, Callahan was named for Dr. J. B. Callahan

“Hundreds of friends,” reported Orlando Evening Star of 4 March 1947, filled Mt. Zion Baptist Church at Washington and Chapman Streets to say farewell to Dr. Jerry Basial Callahan, M. D. Born 1883 in South Carolina, he died 28 February 1947. For the many local citizens of Orlando who came to mourn his death, skin color meant nothing.

Dr. Callahan was survived by his wife of 33 years, Mattie (Muse) Callahan, the daughter of Merritt & Sarah Muse of Jacksonville, Florida. Mattie passed 7 March 1959 and was buried in Jacksonville alongside her husband.

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