Dr. James Hutchinson still remembers the day the local newspaper ran a story about him with the title, “Negro MD gets a permit.” Instead of getting mad, he jokes that it was free advertising for his practice. He became one of the first black doctors in the state of California back in the 1950s. Over 60 years later, he’s still at.
As we celebrate this year’s Black History Month, discover a true pioneer in the field of medicine.
San Mateo’s First Black Doctor
It wasn’t a title Hutchinson deliberately wanted to pursue, but things changed after he set up his practice in the community. He remembers buying the building that would become his office. That’s when his name first appeared in the newspaper. He remembers getting only one hateful message at the time when someone called his office and said, “Why don’t you go back to Africa?”
Hutchinson says it didn’t bother him at all at the time, smiling behind his desk. In addition to being the county’s first black doctor, he and his wife were also the first black family to move into the area, a trend known as pioneering.
“I was brought up in a family tradition that you give back to the community. That if you were born to be fortunate, you don’t get to hoard all your apples,” says Hutchinson, a native of Louisiana.
His mother was a hardworking hospital technician in Shreveport, La, which eventually inspired him to go into medicine. Records show Hutchinson earned his medical degree from the Meharry Medical College School of Medicine in 1952, one of the first historically black medical schools in the country.
Since he set up shop, he’s been helping people in the community get the care they need, regardless of their ability to pay. He has a reputation for never turning anyone away.
Over the years, he became known as the “walking doctor,” hoofing it up and down the streets of San Mateo. He would usually clock in around six miles a day.
Hutchinson has faced plenty of tragedy and heartache as well. He lost both his wife and son over the course of his long career. His son used to work at his practice. He says he thinks about them every day as he continues to serve the local community.
He also served as one of the founding doctors for the local Planned Parenthood office and what’s known as Project 90, a mental health and addiction recovery clinic.
Still Going in His 90s
Hutchinson doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. He still wakes up every morning thinking about his next patient. He says his late wife and son would’ve wanted him to practice as long as possible to make sure their neighbors still have access to care.
“I have patients of all races, all colors, all creeds. I’ve enjoyed practicing in San Mateo,” he says from his practice.
His office is full of pictures of his family, a drawing of Martin Luther King, Jr. and awards from his decades of service in the medical industry.
It’s his easygoing, friendly attitude that makes him so beloved in the local community. He says he’s on the third generation of many patients and still remembers taking care of their parents and grandparents.
As he takes care of an elderly African American woman in his office, he says, “I met this woman when I first moved to San Mateo, and she was pregnant at the time.”
“How old is your son now?” Hutchinson asks. She says, “He’s 63”.
Today, he sees all kinds of patients at his practice, including many who can’t afford to go to the hospital. “I see a lot of silent, little tragedies here,” he says. Referencing a religious quote, he adds, “But for the grace of God goes I. That’s how you have to look at it. And to try to help them as much as you can.”
When his patients ask him how he keeps busy in his old age, he responds with, “I always tell my patients, ‘God’s gonna make me old and ugly enough, I can’t let people do it,’” he said with a chuckle.