William Knox Flowers, Jr., African-American doctor and civic leader, was born on September 22, 1916, in Sulphur Springs, Texas, to William Knox Flowers, Sr., and Bonnie Pearl (Perry) Flowers. He was the eldest of one brother, Perry, and two sisters, Madelyn and Edwina.
As his father was also a doctor, William K. Flowers, Jr., grew up in a household where he saw his father’s role in serving the local community through his medical practice. His father’s medical skill was acknowledged by White residents as early as 1918 when his remedy for the influenza epidemic was so effective that White physicians began to send their patients to him for treatment. By 1924 Flowers, Sr., had moved the family to Dallas, where he eventually became a leader in civic groups such as the Negro Business League and the Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce (now Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce).
Following in his father’s footsteps, William, Jr., pursued medical studies and graduated from Meharry Medical College in 1942. He served a three-year internship at Kansas City General Hospital No. 2, a Black hospital whose purpose was the training of “Negro professionals… of sufficient height, breadth and depth to stand shoulder to shoulder with any other professional man….” After his internship, Flowers, Jr., returned to Dallas and began working at his father’s practice on Hall Street. He married Annette Louise Wimberley, and in 1949 the couple celebrated the birth of William Knox Flowers, III. Like his father, Flowers, Jr., used his position and notability to advance Dallas’s Black community.
By August 17, 1952, William K. Flowers, Jr., was chosen to present a lecture to a special commission called by President Harry Truman to consider the health needs of the nation. Dallas was one of eight cities selected to hold this “grass roots” approach. The lecture Flowers gave to this presidential commission was entitled “The Negro Health Problem.”
In April 1953 Flowers, attorney C. B. Bunkley, Jr., and teacher/actress Mary Louise Waldon helped insurance agent George Allen organize a new Black theater group in Dallas. Consisting of an assortment of teachers and other professionals, the group became known as the Round-up Theatre. Flowers served as vice president of the group. The first play, Walls Rise Up, was performed on June 6 on the grounds of Fair Park. Between 40 to 45 percent of the audience was White, and attendees were seated without regard to race. The group filled a vital gap in the Black community of Dallas according to Round-up actor Earnest L. Wallace. For him, the Round-up Theatre filled the void for African Americans “interested in the cultural atmosphere [of the city]….”
The bonds of Jim Crow Dallas were further frayed in 1954 with the announcement that St. Paul’s Hospital, a Catholic institution which had formerly allowed only White physicians—a stipulation of all of the major Dallas hospitals—would extend facility privileges to five of Dallas’s Black physicians. Flowers was among the five. Furthermore, once the Texas Medical Association changed its constitution to allow for the inclusion of Black doctors and the Dallas County Medical Society changed its constitution as well, Flowers was one of the initial three African-American doctors admitted to the Dallas County Medical Society.
By June 21, 1956, St. Paul’s Hospital took the historic step of giving Flowers and six other Black doctors the status of staff membership. They were the first African-American physicians to achieve staff membership in a Dallas hospital.
Flowers continued to work both at St. Paul’s and from his offices located on Hall Street during the 1960s. In 1965 he was appointed to the new Advisory Public Health Board for the city of Dallas. Before the decade ended, Flowers was one of thirteen doctors reelected to active membership in the American Academy of General Practice, a national association of family doctors. His son, William K. Flowers III, received the National Achievement Scholarship Program for outstanding Black students in 1965.
In 1976 Flowers’s life of devotion to the community was recognized by the C.V. Roman Medical Auxiliary. This women’s association, founded by the wives of physicians, honored Flowers and five other Black doctors for their outstanding and praiseworthy contributions to the Dallas community. In a gala held at the Sheraton-Dallas he was honored for his service.
On Saturday, March 7, 1981, following his regular schedule, Flowers and his nurse, Ursula Reed, closed his office around five in the afternoon, but apparently he later returned. Following his normal routine, his late stay at the office caused little concern. The fact that he did not return to his home went unnoticed as his wife had traveled out of town that night. When, by chance, his nurse stopped at the office the following evening, more than twenty-four hours later, she found that Flowers had been robbed and beaten nearly to death. Though there were no apparent signs of forced entry, police suspected that Flowers was a victim of a robbery; his car, wallet, and other items had been stolen. He was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital and later transferred to St. Paul’s Hospital, but he never regained consciousness. William K. Flowers, Jr., died on March 25, 1981.
Patients and colleagues speculated that the perpetrators had taken advantage of Flowers’s generous spirit. Dentist P. L. Davis, Jr., claimed, “You practice that long, you can’t turn anybody away….He never turned anybody away.…I imagine this was the reason this happened. If you were in need, he was there.” The Dallas Morning News defined Flowers as “one of the most dedicated and active of the 47 black doctors in Dallas.”