Dr. Josephine English, beloved matriarch, real estate magnate, theatre arts trailblazer and medical doctor who counselled Malcolm X — a woman truly ahead of her time who epitomized the ultimate multitasker, passed Sunday (18) at the Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Brooklyn, NY.
Dr. English leaves a tremendous legacy. Her expertise in the field of OB/GYN and her dedication to empowering the community through the cultural arts, were as respected and popular as Shirley Chisholm’s in politics, Hattie Carthan’s in urban ecology, Lucille Rose in civil service and currently Elsie Richardson in community development and Adelaide Sanford in education.
Born on December 17, 1920, Dr. English was born in Ontario, Virginia, one of four children of Whittie English Sr. and Jennie English. She grew up in Englewood, New Jersey and earned her B.A. from New York City’s Hunter College in 1939. English went on to earn her M.A. in psychology from New York University and subsequently attended Meharry Medical School where she specialized in obstetrics and gynecology. English graduated in 1949 as the first African American woman to practice OB/GYN in New York State. She spent seven years working at Harlem Hospital in Manhattan and she then became the first African American woman to open a private OB/GYN practice in New York State.
She worked at Harlem hospital for seven years, She moved to Brooklyn in 1956 and founded a women’s community health clinic in Bushwick in 1958, and a second clinic in Fort Greene in the 1980s. She established the Adelphi Medical Center, a senior citizens center, the Up the Ladder Day Care Center and After School Program, as well as a summer youth camp. In 1982, she purchased a dilapidated church next to her Adelphi Medical Center in Fort Greene, and converted it into the legendary Paul Robeson Theater, naming it after her hero and neighbor.
Dr. English delivered more than 6,000 babies, among them the daughter of former Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown and the six daughters of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz. She also delivered Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage.
It also is reported that Dr. English would urge her patients to get involved with community health issues, and even had players create local fun performances for families in her Brooklyn neighborhood, delivering theater messages about health and nutrition.
Michael Anthony Sheppard, one of her four sons, informed Our Time Press that Dr. English “loved people – real people, and she did what she could do to create opportunities so that people could uplift themselves. She was an icon in Brooklyn history and was concerned that young people were not being taught about the contributions of the great people around them whose shoulders they stand on.”
In fact, Dr. English founded the Paul Robeson Theater to enrich and strengthen the community through art, culture and education. The theater was declared a City landmark in October.
Her greatest wish, according to her son, was that her theater provide an accessible and open forum for creative expression for the generations to come, in perpetuity. It showcases a versatile array of innovative work that reflects the legacy of Paul Robeson.
“Our children need to attend the theater, because when they get older they will know there are some things other than the movies,” said Dr. English in an interview. “Theatre is a meaningful experience.”
Currently, Paul Robeson Theatre is undergoing a major restoration campaign for theatre renovations. Dr. English said, “We put out good theatrical productions. And the people support us.”
Dr. English died the day after her 91st birthday. A private service is being planned for next week. BGreen