TEXAS AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSEUM - Tyler, Texas - OCTOBER 28, 2023 - Written by Artis Newsome - Tyler Texas Physical Therapist. All photos (c) by Clarence Edmond Shackelford.
Jackie Shaw, Tatum Physical Therapist, was the curator of an exhibit that was on display the month of October at the Texas African American Museum in Tyler, Texas. October is National Physical Therapy Month.
The Museum wanted to recognize Ms. Bessie Blount Griffin for her being the first African American and her outstanding careers. Mrs. Shaw, being the first African American physical therapist in East Texas, was glad to develop the exhibit and program.
The program was held on October 28, 2023, at 11:00 a.m. in the Texas African American Museum on Martin L. King, Jr. Boulevard, Tyler, Texas. Artis Newsome, Tyler PT, gave the invocation. Followed by the welcome by Kimberland Johnson, Tyler Physical Therapist Assistant. Mrs. Washington, Texas African American Museum director, welcomed the group to the museum and explained a brief history of the museum.
Ms. Veatrice Cook, San Antonio Physical Therapist, was the featured speaker. Veatrice spent the most time with Mrs. Bessie Blount Griffin. PT when they were roommates in New Orleans during the American Academy of Physical Therapy conference in September 20 -23, 1993. Mrs. Bessie Blount Griffin, PT (“Mama Bessie” known by her friends) was a very intelligent and talented person. Now only was she a physical therapist, she was an inventor, nurse, and forensic scientist hand-writing expert witness.
Credited as the first black forensic scientist, she did most of her work in Europe because Blacks did not have the opportunities in America that they did in Europe. She was sought after as a recognized forensic expert in handwriting expert in many cases in Europe, and later in America. Mama Bessie worked with World War II wounded veterans that had lost extremities which lead to one of her inventions of an apparatus that enables amputees to feed themselves. Her first electronic device was revised to a portable version because the bite size was too large. U. S Veterans Administration was not interested in manufacturing it and Blount turned it over to her patent rights to the French government for use in military. She is also known for teaching amputees to write with their feet and teeth. She later invented a feeding tube that helped veterans become self-sufficient. An article featured her work in Time Magazine.
Mama Bessie communicated with Cook, Shaw and Newsome for several months by letters after meeting them in New Orleans. They have the letters from that correspondence. Mama Bessie did not like flying, so most of her travel in America was by bus or later by train. She would stay in the local jail when she was brought in as expert witness for trials because she felt safer there than in hotels. She was a very special person that everyone should have known. In closing comments Cook stated she has sketches of some of Mrs. Blount Griffin designs in her possession.
Ms. Cook also talked about the start of the Texas Network of Minority Physical Therapist in San Antonio in 1987. There were five African American physical therapists at the national American Physical Therapy Association in San Antonio, Texas for the conference. They met each other and the need discussed for them to stay in contact. Thus, the Network was started in Texas. Part of the Network’s mission was to provide scholarships to Pt and PTS students in the Texas PT and PTA programs and provide continuing education for PTs in Texas.
The organization was able to give 26 students scholarships for a total of $13,000.00. The Network dissolved in April 2010, due to a lack of applications for scholarships. The core group of the Network were: Veatrice Cook, Eunice Bias, Gwen Neal, Velma Jackson, Jackie Shaw, Stephanie Barrett, Theodis “T” Ware and Artis Newsome.
Ms. Cook also inform the group about the American Academy of Physical Therapy, Inc. It is a national, primary African American, physical therapy association designed primarily to address the disparities in healthcare related to African American in America. It gives annual scholarships to students. The organization started in Chicago, Illinois on September 16, 1989, with 82 African American physical therapists and physical therapist assistants. Ms. Cook was the charter Treasurer and served for 10 years. The organization has national headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio where the 2023 annual conference was held. Anyone willing to support the mission and goals of the organization is welcome to be a member.
Ms. Jackie Shaw had the Physical Therapist and Physical Therapist assistant to stand and introduce themselves. She talked about the poster presentation that was on exhibit in the Museum in the month of October. She developed poster about Bessie Blount Griffin, the American Academy of Physical Therapy, the Texas Network of Minority Physical Therapist, Important Physical Therapist in American, Local Physical Therapist and the Pelvic Floor African American Physical Therapist.
Mr. Stanley Cofer and Ms. Washington presented Ms. Jackie Shaw with The Bessie Blount Griffin recognition award for being the first African American PT in East Texas.
Rubye Kendrick, Tyler PT, closed the program by thanking the audience for attending.