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Julian Dawson

Submitted by: Johnette Brooks, GA WWI African American Historian

Julian Dawson image

Julian Dawson born around 1888. Julian Dawson served in World War 1 with the United States Army. The enlistment was in 1917 and the service was completed in 1941.

Story of Service


Brigadier General Julian Levi Dawson, 365th Infantry Medical Detachment

1888 - 1955
Albany, Georgia | Chicago, Illinois
Highest Ranking GA African American Officer
International Physician/Surgeon

In 2014, reporter Timuel Black of the Chicago Tribune wrote a story about the new Obama Presidential Library being built near his childhood home; recalls his mother speaking reverently about “how he should pay attention to our neighbor Dr. Julian Dawson, a black physician who inspired deep respect in our community.”1

Julian Dawson was born 20 March 1888 in Albany, Georgia. His parents were multi-racial and proud of their heritage with high expectations for their children. His father, Levi Dawson, II was of European and Native American descent. Julian’s paternal grandfather was Levi Dawson, the first was born a slave but became a free man according to biographer Chirstopher Manning (2009) in “William L. Dawson and the Limits of Black Electoral Leadership” (p. 13). The elder Levi emphasized the importance of valuing the family name by giving his sons his name or his father’s. Hence, his son was Levi, the second and his brother was named after his maternal grandfather, William Starkey. Julian and William were both given their father’s first name as their middle name. Their father’s brother, George William, also named his son, William Levi Dawson for the same reason.2

Both William Levi’s were very close in age, both from Albany and achieved great success in their own right. It is likely George William’s son is likely William Levi, the successful music composer and creator of the Tuskegee University Music Department. He is a distant cousin who should not be confused with Julian’s brother, William Levi, the U.S. Congressman.

Levi, II was a barber who owned his own shop and his home, free and clear of a mortgage his entire life.3 The majority of his clientele was white. Julian and his older brothers, Wallace and William, worked in their father’s barbershop once their chores were completed at home.

Levi, II married Rebecca Kendrick from Fort Valley, Georgia’s Houston County. Julian’s parents were married on 1880 July 23 in Albany, Dougherty County, Georgia.4 Julian was their fourth eldest child. His siblings included Pattie Lee; Wallace; William L. (a future U.S. Congressman); Janie May; Blanche (a future 20-year Tuskegee instructor).5 Levi and Rebecca instilled self-confidence; the necessity of a good education; to be an asset to the black race and to pay it forward in all of their children. Julian, his older brother William L. and Blanche took their mother’s mandate on her death bed very seriously. The three of them would compete to see who could memorize the books they read first. All three mastered memorization early in life. Their mother’s last words when Julian was 15 years old were: “I have no money to leave you. I have only the principles I taught you. Don’t forget your principles.” 6

Their mother passed in 1900 and is buried at Oakview Cemetery in Albany.7 According to the 1910 Census, their father Levi, remarried to Nellie circa 1908 but it was still his first deceased wife’s mother, Patsy, who continued to sternly raise the children to be self-confident and successful.8 Throughout the years, it was always Levi, Rebecca and Rebecca’s mother, Patsy who combined their talents and income to ensure Julian and his siblings had the best opportunities for success. They attended the Albany Bible and Manual Institute (ABMI). At home, along with the Bible they were exposed to Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Omar Khayyam (a Persian mathematician) and Shakespeare. The ABMI founder, Joseph Winthrop Holley, recommended William, Julian and Blanche attend Fisk University. (Manning, 2009). Fisk University reinforced the Dawsons’ siblings desire to succeed and instill yet more self-confidence in both their abilities to achieve and discern what was morally correct in society.

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, the nation’s leading heart surgeon was very likely influential in Julian’s next academic and career choices. Dr. Williams was a graduate of Northwestern University Medical School in 1883 and the founding vice president of National Medical Association (NMA);, it is the first African American medical association. He was also one of the founders of Provident Hospital, the first negro hospital in the nation located in Chicago. In 1900, Dr. Hale became a visiting professor of surgery at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee where Julian and his brother William, as students at Fisk University in the same city would later attend Dr. Williams’ surgeries and become inspired to become surgeons themselves.9 William would take a different path but Julian followed closely in his footsteps for the rest of his life.

In 1910, Julian graduated Magna Cum Laude in three years from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee; Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, Illinois also with honors in 1914.10 Subsequently, he graduated at the top of his class from the 17th Provisional Officers Training Camp in Des Moines, Iowa.11 He was awarded the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship for research and study abroad in 1931 according to the Journal of Negro Life.12 Julian excelled in everything he endeavored. Likely to attend his graduation from medical school, the Salt Lake City Broad Ax (1914) reported that the “very dear sister of William[s] and Dr. Julian Dawson gave them a surprise by appearing from Fisk University in Nashville in 191413 thus reinforcing how close the siblings remained.

According to Deten J. Brooks of the Chicago Defender (1944) Julian was known to engage in varsity football, baseball and team gymnastics. He was a member of the American Legion; Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Congregational Church; the Masons, as well as, Alpha Phi Alpha - Theta Chapter (Chicago Alumni Chapter). He also participated in the infamous 1910 trifecta debate between Fisk, Atlanta U and Howard. Julian was the primary who argued in the affirmative.14

Once Dr. Julian Dawson and his brother Attorney William L. Dawson completed Officers Training Camp, they took a graduation photo to send to their parents back in Albany. They were transferred to Camp Grant for further training and pre deployment to France. They were both assigned to the 365th Infantry.15 Due to the need for negro physcian instructors due the “exceptional ability and qualifications noted by Lieutenant Colonel Bingham, (2018) per African American Doctors of World War I, Lieutenant Julian Dawson; Lieutenant Raymond Jackson of Brunswick and Lieutenant Louis T. Wright of LaGrange (all from Georgia and all men of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.) were promoted to the rank of captain. Other Georgian Officers who attended Fisk during the war were his brother, William L. (Albany); Henry H. Proctor, Jr. (Atlanta) and Earl H. Nash (Atlanta/Athens).16 Julian was immediately assigned Chief Medical Officer of the entire 365th. Later, he would be the only negro doctor to placed completely in charge of the medical regiment of the entire 92nd Division.17

When Julian registered for the first World War in June of 1917, he listed his occupation as Physician and Surgeon working for himself in Galesburg, Illinois.18 Other Peach State transplants to Chicago who headed overseas with Julian, William L. Raymond; Louis T. and Christopher C. Wimbush, Jr. of Atlanta. A year later, he sailed from Hoboken, New Jersey as the head of the Medical Detachment of the 365th Infantry to Brest, France aboard the USS Agamemnon as Captain with fellow Georgian, 1st Lieutenant Leonard Stovall M.D., of Atlanta.19 According to Deten J. Brooks of the Chicago Defender (1944) once in France, with German shell tremors all around, Capt. Dawson volunteered for a dangerous assignment; understanding he could have stayed back at headquarters but his brother, First Lieutenant William L. Dawson was fighting on the front line of the St. Die sector.20 Julian headed for the front line without confirming orders with his commanding officer. He did not find his brother but due to the previous medical officer’s injuries and removal; he stayed on front line conducting emergency surgery to the injured for three weeks before returning to headquarters. After the Armistice, he was transferred to the 317th Ammunition Training at Camp Pontanezen on 1919 February 14 and sailed back to America shortly after that.21

Militarily speaking, Julian remained on an upward trajectory in rank for the entity of his career. Captain Dawson was promoted to Major (1935); Lieutenant Colonel (1940); Colonel. (1940);22 and Brigadier General (ca. 1946). According to the Chicago Tribune in the summer of 1946, Brigadier General Dawson was the keynote speaker honoring the 8th Infantry at the Bud Billiken Fete in July23 and at Mardi Gras Day in August.24 He retired at the rank of Brigadier General in 1941.25 This makes Brigadier General Julian Dawson, the highest ranking known black officer identified to date from Georgia who served in WWI.

Capt. Dawson remained actively connected to the military for the remainder of his career. He was honorably discharged in 1919. He immediately resumed his medical career. In 1922, he joined the 184th Field Artillery, Illinois National Guard almost from its inception. The entire regiment was 100% black which included the officers and the men.26 Julian later served as an officer in the 8th Illinois National Guard. He was also an excellent representative of the military’s talented tenth in a variety of ways. Starting with using his Fisk University debate skills to respond via a 1925 article by General Bullard’s assertions that black men could not perform up to the standards of white recruits. Dawson and other black officers sent up a resounding “incorrect” by highlighting the many achievements of the black servicemen and officers who excelled in combat, as well as, Supply of Service duties in a scathing Chicago Tribune article on June 21st of the same year. 27 Additionally, he was often the master of ceremonies or a guest speaker at many of the military-related and community events, including but not limited to, a push to get the Illinois National Guard to be 10% Negroes, and to being chosen by Mayor Martin J. Kennelly to be on the shortlist to receive General MacArthur to the city. 28

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams was the first black heart surgeon who graduated from Northwestern University Medical School. Dr. Williams was the founding vice president (along with H. R. Butler, Atlanta’s first black pharmacy owner) of the National Medical Association (NMA), the first African American medical association, as well as, a founder of Provident Hospital, first nation’s first black hospital in America located in Chicago, IL. In 1900, Dr. Williams was invited to become a visiting professor of surgery at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee.29 It is highly likely that Julian attended these guest lectures while he was matriculating at Fisk from 1907 to 1910. So, it is not surprising that Julian decided to become a surgeon and attend Dr. Williams' alma mater, Northwestern University Medical School and later became employed at the hospital Dr. Williams founded. On 1914, having a freshly minted medical degree in hand from Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, Julian opened a practice in Galesburg, Illinois approximately three hours from Chicago.30 Prior to leaving for the war, Julian married Aline Lulu Thompson from Saint Louis, Missouri on November 30, 1917.31 After the war, Julian returned to Chicago and accepted a staff position as junior surgeon at Provident once he returned from France.32 Courtesy: U.S. Passport Application

After mastering all available knowledge for United States surgeons, Julian sought additional study abroad. Since this was prior to the Rosenwald Fellowships, he was responsible for his own expenses. Julian sent home most of his base pay during WWI directly home to Aline. She worked and saved every single penny from his time in the service. In 1923, this gave him the opportunity to do post graduate study at the Zu Wien Medical School “the birthplace of specialised medicine” in Vienna, Austria . He took Aline, Julian Jr. (age 2) and Alice (age 1)33 with him. Aline had their third child three weeks after their arrival in Vienna.34,35

Denton J. Brooks penned a detailed description of Dr. Dawson’s dual careers in the Chicago Defender’s 1944 article entitled “Dawson won Acclaim As Both Doctor and Soldier”. He outlines a unique experience while working at Kaiser Franz Josephi Hospital under the guidance of Dr. George Lotheissen, Hofrat Professor who allowed him to work on staff as a foreign surgeon. “Most visiting surgeons were permitted to attend lectures, view operations but never work on a patient” (Brooks, 1944).36 Additionally, Brooks writes of an unique experience of lack of tolerance for prejudice when two visiting American; one Austrailian and one Alaskan (Alaska will not be apart of the USA until 1959) saw a negro in a white coat. The new visiting doctors protested the statue of negro surgeon at the hospital. When Dr. Lotheissen was told, he refunded their course fees and then asked his assistant to escort them to the front gate and kick them out!37 While overseas Dr. Dawson work @ St. John Hospital in Budapest, Hungary and Pech, Hungary on staff to getting intensive obstetrics and genealogical clinical experience.38

Upon his return to Provident Hospital from aboard he was promoted to senior surgeon and director of clinics. He relinquished the clinical role in 1933 during a hospital reorganization. In According to the March issue of Carter G. Woodson’s Journal of Negro Life, in 1931, Julian and Dr. Roscoe C. Giles, both of Provident received the distinguished Julius Rosenwald Fund Fellowship for research study aboard but he will do research work here before going aboard.39,40 He retired from Provident in 1951 due to health issues. Similarly, he had been forced to retire due to a cardiac condition of the 184th Field Artillery (formerly the Eight Infantry of the Illinois National Guard).41 Dr. Dawson’s generosity for his beloved Provident was evident by his 1936 donation to the hospital of $1,000 (2020 equivalent of $15,000)42 during a $3,000,000 development of the new Provident Hospital Chicago Medical Centre complex.43

The General passed away after an extended illness surrounded by his children and grandchildren. His obituary ran in Chicago Defender; Jet Magazine; Chicago Tribune and the Miami Herald; and they all mentioned he was the brother of the U.S. Representative William L. Dawson;44,45,46,47 and his wife Aline; four children, two daughters, Mrs. Alice Harris and Mrs. Irma Morton; two sons, Julian Jr., and Atty. Ira T., one sister, Blanche Dawson Roney and eight grandchildren.48

In 1951, Dr. Dawson was one of nineteen retired physicians and surgeons honored for his 22 years of service. The ceremony included a luncheon at the Washington Park YMCA, awarded a plaque and appointed a honorary staff member.49 He had recently retired due to poor health.50 Julian and Aline were members of Chicago’s elite black society which was evident since they owned their own home at 5226 Michigan Avenue, Chicago; valued at forty five hundred ($4500, 2020 equivalent is $700K) according to the 1930 census. His father, Levi, II death certificate address is 5226 Michigan Avenue indicating his father was residing with him and Aline at the time of his death in 1952 and he is buried in the Mount Greenwood Cemetery in Chicago.51

Brigadier General Dawson died at his home on Thursday night, May 12, 1955 after a lengthy illness per the Chicago Defender’s Mattie Colin.52 He is interned at Lincoln National Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.53