Dr. Thomas Leroy Jefferson (1867-1939) was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi. He was the first African-American physician in West Palm Beach. He was known as the “bicycle doctor” because he made his rounds and house calls on a bicycle throughout the entire county.
According to family legend, Dr. Jefferson was related to President Thomas Jefferson, through Sally Hemmings, a slave. Dr. Jefferson taught school in New Iberia, Louisiana, while he ran a drugstore. He attended Meharry Medical School in Nashville, Tennessee. He first practiced medicine in Orange, Texas, and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Dr. Jefferson moved to the Palm Beach area and set up a medical office in the early 1900’s to treat African Americans who had set up residence in an area known as Styx. A construction boom at that time, fueled by the expanding railroad and construction, had attracted many African-American workers to a lakeside community of what would later be known as the Town of Palm Beach in Palm Beach County. Many of them were from the Caribbean or former slaves.
Dr. Jefferson’s daughter, Maude Katherine Jefferson, said that “The people (in Styx) were like a complex network of extended family. Each child was known individually and there was much love there.” Ms. Jefferson went on to say, “He did not talk much outside of the examination room, but inside he took a long time just talking to his patients. He believed in patient education.” (Fooksman, 2013)
Dr. Jefferson moved his practice to West Palm Beach as his patients settled there. By 1912, Dr. Jefferson opened a medical office on North Olive Avenue and a drugstore at Clematis Street and Rosemary Avenue. He was described as an “elegant” man who worked for much of the remainder of his life, according to the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
Dr. Jefferson was also a savvy investor who believed in saving. He retired when he was 60-years-old, however, two years later, the stock market crash of 1929 left him bankrupt. He returned to providing medical care until a few years before he died.
Dr. Jefferson died having his appendix removed at Pine Ridge Hospital in 1939. He had served as the father of medicine here in Palm Beach County for the African-American and Native American communities.
Fooksman, Leon (2013). A Tradition of Caring, A History of Medicine in Palm Beach County. Birmingham, Alabama: Legacy Publishing Company.
(2009) Thomas L. Jefferson. History Online, Historical Society of Palm Beach County. Retrieved from: www.pbchistoryonline.org