N. 5th St. Will Be Renamed for Dr. William Finlayson
Black OBGYN doctor was trailblazer in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee is poised to rename a portion of N. 5th St. for Dr. William Finlayson, a well-known Black doctor who delivered more than 10,000 babies in the city.
Finlayson, 98, was part of the Great Migration that saw millions of African Americans relocate from the rural south to northern cities. The renamed street, Dr. William Finlayson St., would run for approximately 2.5 miles from W. Capitol Dr. south to W. Walnut St. It would cross through the Bronzeville neighborhood where many African Americans settled and Finlayson once had an office.
Finlayson arrived in Milwaukee in 1958 after three years in the U.S. Army and earning an undergraduate degree at Morehouse College in Atlanta and a medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville.
“I would call him a drum maker for justice. He opened many doors that were closed,” said his son Reggie Finlayson.
He is believed to be the first Black doctor to work at both St. Joseph Hospital and Mount Sinai Hospital. The obstetrician and gynecologist served on medical and nonprofit boards. He is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity’s Delta Chi Lamba Chapter, members of which are leading the renaming effort.
In addition to his medical work, Finlayson helped establish North Milwaukee State Bank and a YMCA on the north side of the city. The former, said his son, came because Finlayson had to go back to Nashville to secure financing to open his private practice.
“We are just thrilled that my father would be considered for this honor,” said his daughter Sheila Finlayson, an alderwoman in Annapolis, MD. She said she walked 5th Street securing support for the renaming and encountered several supporters with personal connections to the doctor. “We knocked on every single door more than once.”
Finlayson’s street will parallel that of Vel Phillips (the former N. 4th St.) and his friend and former classmate Martin Luther King, Jr. (former N. 3rd St.). His son said the location was appropriate because his first office was at N. 5th St. and W. North Ave., and he worked with both Phillips and King.
“Rarely do you get opportunities to demonstrate to folks while they’re alive just how much of an impact they’ve had on our your life and on others,” said area Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs in support. She said her one regret about renaming 4th Street after Phillips was that the civil rights leader had passed away.
The street will pass America’s Black Holocaust Museum, which fraternity chapter chair Terrell Freeman said would collectively raise awareness of the local leader. “I think it’s important we shine a light on the heroes of our city,” said Freeman.
The effort has been several years in the making. A 2019 proposal by Ash would have renamed N. 20th St. from W. Olive St. to W. Wells St., but the council never formally reviewed that request. The doctor’s longtime office was at 2003 W. Capitol Dr.
The council has held off acting on the latest proposal because of a quirk in its rules. The street renaming process would bypass the traditional referendum-style structure in favor of a direct council vote. But the ability for the council to execute such an action has been blocked because it would require at least 12 of the 15 members to vote yes, and, due to resignations and a criminal case, the council only has 11 members currently. Two new members, Jonathan Brostoff and Mark Chambers Jr., are due to be sworn in next week following special elections Tuesday.
The committee unanimously endorsed the proposal. The full council is to vote on the renaming on Nov. 21.
The renaming would leave stretches of N. 5th St. in Downtown and the Haymarket neighborhood.
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Related Legislation: File 220511