Broward County’s first African American physician
The Sistrunk Family monument located in Fort Lauderdale’s Woodlawn Ceme-tery. (Photo by Anice Altema)
By Sharilee Francis
While documenting Fort Lauderdale’s Woodlawn Cemetery, Boyd Anderson High School’s History Across Broward Initiative, students discovered the grave marker of Dr. James Sistrunk and his family. Dr. Sistrunk was an African American physician best known for his contributions to the medical field in Broward County. Sistrunk was the only son of Mr. and Mrs. Berry Sistrunk, born in 1891 in Midway, Fla.
Sistrunk attended college in Nashville, Tennessee and graduated from Meharry Medical College in 1919. After graduating college he was drafted into the military during World War I, in which he served some time before moving to Dunnellon, Fla. and began practicing medicine. After some encouragement from a non-Black pharmacist named Beck, Sis-trunk moved to Fort Lauderdale in April of 1922.
Upon his arrival, Dr. Sis-trunk, a qualified medical physician, was not able to perform procedures in white hospitals. In 1938, Dr. Sistrunk partnered with Dr. Von Mizell to establish Broward County’s first medical facility for Blacks, Provident Hospital. Provident Hospital was open to every African-American individual within South Florida offering both medical and surgical care.
In his 44 years in Fort Lauderdale Dr. Sistrunk was estimated to have delivered more than 5,000 babies. It is said that he remembered every single one of them regardless of age and when he saw them he could point them out and say “That one is mine”. After the desegregation of public hospitals in the 60’s Provident Hospital closed and Dr. Sistrunk became an active member of Broward General Hospital.
Dr. James Sistrunk was more than just a doctor to his community; he was a friend. He passed away on March 20, 1966 and was buried at Fort Lauderdale’s Woodlawn Cemetery. Today he is remembered as “Doc” the kind, down to earth doctor you could go to if you were hurt or if you just wanted to talk.
Every February, he is honored at the Sistrunk Festival on the Boulevard that bears his name: Sistrunk Blvd. Doc loved his community. If we continue to tell Dr. Sistrunk’s story, the contributions of Broward County’s first Black doctor will live on forever.
History Across Broward Needs Your Help. If you have information about Dr. James Sistrunk or anyone buried at Woodlawn Cemetery and would like to help please contact the students at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the club advisor Roberto Fernandez at (754) 322-0200.