More than 50 physicians, guests and members of the media gathered with representatives from the Newtown community at Sarasota Memorial’s Internal Medicine Practice in Newtown on Wednesday to honor the late John Chenault, M.D., known as the first African-American physician to receive practicing privileges at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in 1960.
An orthopedic surgeon, Chenault was one of the first doctors to establish a practice serving the Newtown community. Walter Gilbert, who at 13 was a patient of Chenault's, recalled how challenging it was for black Newtown residents to receive medical treatment. Most were forced to travel to Tampa or St. Petersburg because many doctors in Sarasota during the 1960s refused to see black patients. According to Gilbert, Sarasota Memorial Hospital did establish a wing for black patients, but if it was full, you were out of luck.
“When Dr. Chenault came in and got his privileges that all changed,” Gilbert said Wednesday. “It was good to see a person like him. He wasn’t just some fresh guy out of medical school. He had practiced all over the country and was famous. [For] a guy with his stature to come to Sarasota, Florida, during the '60s, that was huge.”
Before moving to Sarasota from Tallahassee in 1957, Chenault was a diplomate of the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery at New York University, the director of the Tuskegee Institute's Orthopedic Surgery and Polio Center, an administrator at Florida A&M University Hospital and a member of an American Red Cross advisory board.
The dedication ceremony included a presentation of a new portrait of Chenault, an illustration created by Yekaterina Kaydash, a student at Ringling College of Art and Design. Guests took a moment to share a brief history of Chenault’s contributions, leadership roles and how he touched the lives of countless individuals in Newtown.