Emmett James Conrad, African-American surgeon and Dallas civic leader, son of John and Flora Paulfrey Conrad, was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on October 6, 1923. He graduated from McKinley High School and studied pre-medicine at Southern University in Baton Rouge for two years before being drafted into the United States Army during World War II. Conrad’s performance on an Army IQ test earned him a scholarship to complete pre-medicine studies at Stanford University. Following the war, he entered Meharry Medical College in Nashville and earned his M.D. degree in 1948.
Dr. Conrad served an internship at Homer Phillips Hospital in St. Louis and then joined the United States Air Force, rising to the rank of captain while stationed at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois. During his internship, he married Eleanor Nelson on July 15, 1949. The couple had one child, Cecilia Ann Conrad, born on January 4, 1955. After two years in the Air Force, Conrad returned to St. Louis, completed his surgical training, and served as chief resident at Homer Phillips Hospital. He also was a research fellow at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.
In 1955, at the urging of friends among the African-American doctors in Dallas, Conrad relocated to that city. He arrived only one year after St. Paul’s Hospital became the first white hospital in Dallas to extend privileges to Black physicians and shortly before the Texas Medical Association removed the word “white” from its constitution, opening the door for Blacks to join the staffs of white hospitals. In 1956 Conrad became the first African-American surgeon on the staff of St. Paul’s, and in 1980 he became Chief of Staff there, a position that made him the leader of more than 700 doctors. Conrad continued to practice medicine until his retirement in 1992.
Doctor Conrad became heavily involved in the civic life of Dallas during the 1960s, playing an important role in the move to break down segregation in the city. In 1967 he won election to the board of trustees of the Dallas Independent School District, and as the board’s first African-American member, he served for ten years. He promoted free-lunch programs for poor students and worked for the integration of administrative staffs. The DISD school board secretary called Doctor Conrad “a very steady and yet determined influence for the African-American children in the district. Through his political and medical career, he served as a role model. He paved the way for all of the African-American officials we’ve had since.”
In 1983 Doctor Conrad served on the Select Committee on Public Education that proposed major reforms to improve education in Texas, including the controversial “no pass, no play” rule. The next year Gov. Mark White appointed Conrad as the first African-American member of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), a position that he held until his death from lung disease on April 24, 1993. Eleanor Conrad completed his SBOE term, which ended in 1995.
A partial list of the many civic activities participated in by Doctor Emmett Conrad includes membership on the boards of trustees at Southern Methodist University and Huston-Tillotson College and on the planning committee for the University of Texas at Dallas, president of the Greater Dallas Community of Churches, board member of the Dallas Urban League and the Dallas Branch of the NAACP, board of governors of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and board of trustees for the Dallas Arboretum. His innumerable honors included honorary life membership in the Texas Congress of Parents and Teachers (1975), Father of the Year (1977), and Outstanding Volunteer of the Year (1985). In 1986 his portrait was hung in Dallas City Hall as a Living Legend. Dr. Emmett Conrad’s funeral service was held at the Hall of State Building at Fair Park in Dallas on April 29, 1993. He was buried at Laurel Land Memorial Park. Another, and highly appropriate tribute, came in 2006 when the Dallas Independent School District opened Emmett J. Conrad High School on Fair Oaks Avenue.