Dr. M. Delmar Edwards, Columbus’ first African American to practice surgery in Columbus, died Friday after a long illness. He was 83.
Edwards’ son, Dr. Christopher Edwards, said of his father, “Dad was the smartest man I had ever met. He spoke at least two different languages fluidly and then a third pretty well. I watched him sort of maneuver through some difficult times especially in Columbus when there was a lot of tension that was related to race and racial issues and he always seemed to rise above that fray and bring everyone with him.”
Edwards moved to Columbus from his home state of Arkansas in 1964. At the time, he was the only black surgeon in Columbus and the only African American physician who was legally allowed to admit patients to the local hospital, Christopher Edwards said.
“The by-laws of The Medical Center at the time said that if you did not graduate from a white medical school, you couldn’t admit patients to the hospital,” Christopher Edwards said.
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Because Delmar Edwards was the first black man to graduate from the University of Arkansas, he met the criteria of being allowed to admit patients to the local hospital. Despite the uproar this situation caused, Christopher Edwards said, “The rules were the rules and they followed the rules.”
Because of Delmar Edwards, the population of African American physicians in Columbus blossomed, said local physician Dr. Thomas Malone. Delmar Edwards became a mentor to scores of black physicians in Columbus and a driving force behind their decisions to stay and practice within the community. Today there are at least 50 black physicians in Columbus, Malone said.
“Delmar is my reason for being in Columbus,” Malone said. “He was the only black doctor that was in town at the time.”
Despite the road blocks and hardships Delmar Edwards faced during his years as a practicing surgeon in Columbus, his son, Christopher Edwards, said he never harbored hate towards anyone in the community. On the contrary, he encouraged and fostered relationships with white educators as well as business and civic leaders.
“That just wasn’t a part of who he was,” Christopher Edwards said. “He always thought if you could just educate people you could bring them up, raise them up. Don’t get down to the level where all of the problems seem to exist, but rather educate them. Educated people will ultimately respond and you can raise everyone up.”
Delmar Edwards was a founding trustee of the Morehouse School of Medicine where a scholarship program that was named in his honor has helped dozens of Morehouse School of Medicine students become doctors.
“His character, integrity and intelligence are what I admired most,” Christopher Edwards said. “He treated people with respect and honor no matter their perceived station in life and he was the most ethical person I had known or have since met. And finally I realized he was not just our “Dad,” but had become a father to an entire community.”