Hamilton, Richard Theodore (1869–1946)

By: Mark B. Buchy

Type: Biography

Published: May 15, 2013

Updated: April 7, 2021

Richard Theodore Hamilton, African-American surgeon and Dallas civic leader, son of Virgil and Clarissa (Fears) Hamilton, was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 31, 1869. Hamilton graduated as valedictorian from the all-Black Alabama State Normal School in 1890. He taught at his alma mater but shortly resigned and moved to Washington, D.C., where he began a clerkship for the Department of Interior while at the same time studying medicine at Howard University. He eventually earned his M.D. in 1893. Immediately after medical school he was employed with the United States Bureau of Pensions in Washington, D.C. and by this time had married Hattie A. Dejarnette. They had no children.

Hamilton arrived in Dallas in 1901 and began practicing medicine. His medical office was located at the Pythian Temple, the Knights of Pythias lodge at 2551 Elm in the Deep Ellum district of downtown Dallas. Centered in the heart of a White-dominated Southern Democratic city, Hamilton and his wife Hattie were a perennial voice for the African-American equality movement. (Hattie D. Hamilton was a civic leader, and an officer in the Ladies’ Coterie Club, which fought for African-American use of the library.) The couple was active in the St. John Baptist Church. R. T. Hamilton published notable articles in the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Express, and the Journal of the National Medical Association and called attention to the “forced” unsanitary conditions of the Black community which contributed to higher death rates. He continuously called for better housing conditions as well as urged schools, churches, and physicians to heighten education concerning health.

In 1926 Hamilton helped fund the construction of the Moreland branch YMCA, the first YMCA facility to welcome Blacks in Dallas. Hamilton led a five-year-long campaign for state support of Black out-of-state graduate and professional school work as chairman of the Committee on Civics and Public Welfare of the Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce. In December 1935 he submitted a resolution to the Texas Commission on Interracial Cooperation to sponsor a bill before the Texas legislature. In 1938 Hamilton coauthored House Bill No. 678 that requested tuition assistance for qualified Blacks to travel to out-of-state institutions. He insisted that passage of the student aid bill would “return rich dividends to the state in all elements that make for a contributing, constructive, grateful and loyal Negro citizenship.” Leveraging laws passed by at least four other states concerning equal opportunities for African Americans and higher education, Hamilton brought to light the inadequacies in Texas. Eventually renamed House Bill No 255, his efforts paid off in June 1939 when the legislature approved $25,000 annually for out-of-state education for Blacks.

Hamilton was active in many organizations and served as chairman of the Negro Business League (Black Chamber of Commerce), chairman of Rescue Normal Industrial Institute, chairman of the Negro Auxiliary to the Board of Public Welfare. He was also grand medical registrar of the Colored Knights of Pythias and president of the National Association of Life Insurance Medical Examiners.

In later years Hamilton lived at the men's dormitory at the Moreland YMCA. (Hattie Hamilton had died sometime before 1920.) Suffering from blindness, Hamilton retired in the 1930s and eventually returned to Montgomery, Alabama, where he died on December 12, 1946. Hamilton Park housing development in Dallas was named in honor of Dr. R. T. Hamilton. The subdivision was dedicated in October 1953 and formally opened in May 1954.

J. Mason Brewer, Heralding Dawn (Dallas: Mathis Publishing, 1936). Dallas Express, April 22, 1939. Dallas Morning News, February 5, 1987. Daniel Smith Lamb, comp. and ed., A Historical, Biographical and Statistical Souvenir (Washington, D.C.: R. Beresford, 1900). Amilcar Shabazz, Advancing Democracy: African Americans and the Struggle for Access and Equity in Higher Education in Texas (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).

  • Education
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Lawyers, Civil Rights Activists, and Legislators
  • Politics and Government
  • Health and Medicine
  • Physicians and Surgeons
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Civic Leaders
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mark B. Buchy, “Hamilton, Richard Theodore,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/hamilton-richard-theodore.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 15, 2013
April 7, 2021

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