Emerson Emory was a noted African-American doctor of internal medicine, a psychiatrist, and the first African American in Dallas to receive an internship at St. Paul’s Hospital. Emory was born in Dallas on January 29, 1925. He was the son of Corry Bates Emory, a World War I veteran, and Louise (Linthicum) Emory. Raised in the Roman Catholic faith, Emerson Emory was inspired to be a doctor from early childhood. He graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1940 and attended Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University) from 1940 to 1942.
During World War II he enlisted in the United States Army on his eighteenth birthday and served in the Quartermaster Corps in Europe and the Pacific Theater. After he was honorably discharged in 1946, he returned to his studies and earned an undergraduate pre-medical degree at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1948 and his M.D. at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1952. While engaged in his medical studies, Emory also joined the United States Naval Reserves and was commissioned an ensign. After medical school, he returned to Dallas and completed his residency at St. Paul’s Hospital in 1954. That same year, St. Paul’s had become the first major hospital in Dallas to grant staff privileges to five African-American physicians. During the next two years Emory worked in residency programs in California—first at the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte and then at Wadsworth General Hospital (Veterans Administration) in Los Angeles.
Returning to Texas in July 1956, he attended Southern Methodist University Law School (1956–57) and Texas Southern University Law School (1957–58). From 1957 to 1960, Emory worked as staff physician at the Veterans Administration medical centers in McKinney and Dallas. In 1960 he began his private practice in Dallas and specialized in internal medicine. Emory became the first African-American physician to volunteer for the American Medical Association’s Volunteer Physicians for the Viet Nam project. In this capacity he dispensed medical treatment to Vietnamese civilians during a sixty-day tour in 1966. Emory served as a Fellow in Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas from 1966 through 1969. He held the positions of staff psychiatrist for the Terrell State Hospital and chief of psychiatric services at the Federal Correctional Institution in Seagoville before returning to his private practice by 1972. He added psychiatry to his practice of internal medicine. Still active in the Naval Reserves, in 1972 Emory helped establish the National Naval Officers Association and served as its first president. He became a member of the Congressional Selection Committee for the United States Naval Academy as well. He remained a member of the Reserves until 1979 when he retired with the rank of captain.
Emory was active in politics and community service. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor twice, and for the state legislature and the city council once. Although he never served in elective office, he served as a precinct chair and was an outspoken proponent of civil rights. He was an active member of the Dallas branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. His dedication to community service resulted in leadership positions in several Dallas organizations. In 1970 he became the first African-American president of the Dallas Council of the United Service Organization (USO). That same year Emory went to Washington, D.C., as a delegate to the White House Conference on Children. In the late 1970s he edited and published his own journal, Freedom’s Journal.
In 1979 Emory was accused of illegally dispensing narcotic medication from his office. Emory defended himself in the case and argued that such medication was necessary to help drug addicts combat more severe controlled substances. He was, however, found guilty and served two years in federal prison. Later, when he became executive director of the Dallas branch of the Southern Leadership Conference in 1993, Emory advocated for an adult drug treatment center in South Dallas, the needs of the homeless, as well as for voting rights for inmates released from prison.
Emory remained active in civic affairs. During the 1990s he played an instrumental role in the preservation of artifacts from historic Freedman’s Cemetery in Dallas after the graveyard was disturbed by the expansion of Central Expressway, and he led efforts to construct a commemorative monument to the African Americans of Dallas at the cemetery. An ongoing voice for justice for minorities, he was a volunteer for the Black Citizens for Justice, Law and Order. Believing that litigation was more effective than demonstrations, Emory filed lawsuits against the city of Dallas, Dallas Independent School District, and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. "I’m not into picketing…," he commented "…when you force people to spend money, it forces them to the table."
Later in life, Emory’s passion for history led in an unusual direction—his interest in his “Southern heritage” and the Confederacy. He became a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans upon discovery that he was a descendant of Capt. Henry C. Hancock, who had served in the Seventeenth Texas Cavalry. Emory became Commander of the Gaston-Gregg Camp in Dallas and earned national attention in 1998 when he wished to lay a wreath on behalf of the Sons of Confederate Veterans at the dedication of the African-American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. He did so—but during a night visit to the monument.
Emory was honored with many awards during his lifetime. In 1966 he received the Department of State’s Agency for International Development Humanitarian Award. The Interdenominational Ministers’ Alliance honored him with their Outstanding Achievement in Race Relations in 1969. He was given the Committee of 100 Award in Medicine by the Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce (now Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce) in 1973. In 1990 Emory was named “Dallas Living Legend” by the Junior Black Academy of Arts and Letters. President Bill Clinton presented a certificate to Emory in 1995 in honor of his World War II service.
Emory had married Peggy Lillian Herald. They had one son, Emerson (Rusty) Emory, Jr. and two daughters, Karon Hutcheson and Sharon Emory. The couple later separated.
Emerson Emory died at Methodist Medical Center in Dallas on January 28, 2003. A funeral Mass was held at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, and he was buried in Carver Cemetery in southern Dallas County. Emory’s legacy of community service, political activism, and dedication to his beliefs reflected his motto: “Deeds, not words.”