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SESQUICENTENNIAL MOMENT: William Yoakley, Class of 1902, Was WC’s First African American Graduate

Physician Served Wilmington for Many Years  Dr. William B. Yoakley’s humble beginnings presented numerous obstacles to his becoming a highly respected physician. Born in the rural burg of Guerneyville outside of Wilmington in 1875, he was six years old when his father died, leaving his mother to rear four small children. On top of that hardship, he was an African American in the 19th century. PICTURED: Dr. William B. Yoakley Yoakley worked on a nearby farm through age 17 before enrolling at Wilmington College in 1892. Following two years, he began his teaching career at the Gist Settlement, a small community near New Vienna established by a group of freed, enslaved persons from Virginia in 1815 on land purchased by their former slaveowner. He returned to the College in 1898 and, while working as a township assessor, graduated in 1902 with a Bachelor of Arts degree — the first African American to graduate from WC. Yoakley went on to teach for six years at nearby Midland School and, in 1909, he became the first African American to earn a lifetime teaching certificate from the State of Ohio. Also, in 1909, he took the Civil Service Examination and earned an assignment as a special agent of the Census Bureau, first in Cincinnati then in Washington, D. C. While in Washington he began his study of medicine at Howard University taking evening classes, then becoming a full-time student and graduating with a Doctor of Medicine degree in June of 1915. The next year, at 40 years of age, Dr. Yoakley began a new career in medicine and went on to become a much-respected physician Wilmington, where he had a practice on N. South St. In 1929, The Wilmington Daily News-Journal reported: “During the World War, he was one of the medical examiners on the draft board. He made an enviable reputation during the influenza epidemic in 1918. He is now and has been for several years one of the city physicians for the indigent poor. Three fourths of Dr. Yoakley’s patients are white and he finds some of the wealthiest and most respected residents of the county among his patients.” Dr. William B. Yoakley, 63, died on July 9, 1938, at his home on Sugartree Street, Wilmington. He was survived by his wife, Ida Mae Frazier Yoakley. He is buried in Sugar Grove Cemetery. In Wilmington.