This is the last of four weekly articles — to commemorate historic local residents and Black History Month — written for the News Journal by Shelby Boatman, Executive Director of the Clinton County History Center.
Are you familiar with the name William B. Yoakley?
Doctor Yoakley was born at Gurneyville in October of 1874 to Abraham and Mary Yoakley. He was but six years old when his father died, and he was required to provide for the family.
He did not shy away from his responsibilities, but instead finished school at Mt. Pleasant and worked on a farm near his home until he was 17. He began his studies at Wilmington College in 1892 for two years.
He took up teaching for the Gist Settlement in Highland County for three years, then returned to Wilmington to obtain his A.B. degree in 1902. At that time, he was the first African American student to graduate from Wilmington College.
While in school, Yoakley was hired as an assessor of Liberty Township, duties he carried out while also studying for class. The following year he joined Midland Schools as a teacher and he taught for six consecutive years.
In 1909, William took his state teacher’s examination and obtained a life certificate — at the time the only man of color to hold such a certificate in the State of Ohio.
That same year, he received an appointment as a special agent in the Census Bureau as a result of his Civil Service examination. For two years he would work in the Bureau at night and study medicine during the day at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
He proudly graduated with his M.D. degree in 1915. In 1916, following his passing of the State Boards, Yoakley opened his practice at 119 ½ North South Street (in the current general area of The Cutting Room) at the age of 42.
During World War I he was a medical examiner for the draft board and was a vital presence during the influence epidemic of 1918. He was known to treat the city’s poorest poor alongside the wealthiest and majority of white patients in the county.
As a member of the Clinton County Medical Association, Ohio State Medical Association, Free and Accepted Masons, and treasurer for the A.M.E. Church of Wilmington, William Yoakley was held in high regard.
He died on July 9, 1938 at his home on Sugartree Street. Now buried in Sugar Grove Cemetery, his educational and medical impact in Clinton County can forever be appreciated by paying homage to his headstone that reads “Wm. B. Yoakley, 1875-1938”.
For more information on this topic please contact the History Center at 937-382-4684 or visit us online at www.clintoncountyhistory.org .