The Legacy of Dr. Christopher Maxwell Roulhac
July 1880- December 1965
The Roulhac Quarterly, Winter 1992, Vol. 1. Issue 2
The following interview of Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth and Dr. Christopher M. Roulhac, Jr., conducted by Harold Chandler, is the first in a three-part series.
Interviewer: February 23, 1987, and it is a very historical moment that we are in the home of the late Dr. Christopher M. Roulhac, and residing in this beautiful place is Mrs. Phillip Booth, his daughter, and visiting her from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is his son, and the brother of Mrs. Booth, Dr. Christopher M. Roulhac, Jr. So the legacy of Dr. Roulhac lives. He died December 5, 1965, here in Memphis, Tennessee. Mrs. Booth, can you tell us where your dad was born?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: He was born in Chipley, Florida. That's in the northern part of Florida near Pensacola. He went to school in Florida; many of the members of the family had attended the same school, FAMC, which was Florida A & M College, and from there he went to Atlanta University and from Atlanta University to Howard University.
Interviewer: And it was at Howard University that he did his medical work, right?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Yes.
Interviewer: Well, Dr. Christopher, would you say something about your Dad after he had finished medical school and where did he go from there.
Dr. Christopher M. Roulhac, Jr.: Well, after finishing medical school, he came to Memphis, Tennessee with his bride, my mother. And he lived on Walker Avenue with Mrs. West when he first came here, and practiced here for more than 50 years.
Interviewer: Could you say something about his stature, to fu t us know a little bit about what he was like?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Well, if you're looking at Christopher Roulhac, his son, you'll see the image.
Interviewer: Oh, okay.
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: With Dr. Roulhac's son, people say they are looking at Dr. Roulhac when they are looking at him. Because he was a big man, broad shoulders, and my brother is bald. just like his Daddy, and his son is bald just like his grandfather.
Interviewer: Well, I understand that he practiced some 55 years here in Memphis. So he seems to have really given a lot to the Memphis community as it was related to medicine. And it was interesting, several weeks ago, how all of this came about, because I had called you to ask you if you knew relatives of Dr. Miles Lynk, and then at that time you indicated that your father was a doctor here in Memphis. Could you just tell us how Dr. Roulhac and Dr. Lynk related?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Well, I don't know too much about how they related, other than Dr. Lynk started a medical school here, and this was the first and only Black medical school that I know of here in Memphis. In fact, it was in this neighborhood right around the corner that the school was established. But I do remember that also at that time there was the Mercy Hospital that was started by Dr. West, and my father did surgery in that hospital up here where Booker T. Washington High School is now. And that hospital was quite well known from the physicians that came out of there who did very good work.
Interviewer: Now, I understand your father was on the faculty of the University of West Tennessee
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Yes, he was. He taught anatomy and physiology.
Interviewer: Yes, and I thought it was quite interesting that for a period of time that this University had given such leadership in turning out medical students. I also note that you have shown me a collage of pictures of the family and you also indicated that in Chipley there was a middle school named after the family. Could you tell us more about that?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Well, my father's brother was [a] principal for more that 50 years at the colored schools in Chipley. At that time and after integration they wanted to name the school after him, and at that time they wanted to name the high school "Roulhac High School', and they had some problems, and later on they named the middle school after by father's brother. [Editor's Note: Prior to the forced integration of public schools in Florida in the mid-sixties, Roulhac High School was the only high school for African-American students in Washington County.]
Interviewer: Do you still have relatives that teach in the school?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Yes, Well, I guess they're both retired now. Two daughters of my uncle are still in Chipley. When we were there [in Chipley] last, one was teaching in the school.
Interviewer: Could you- do you want to add anything about Chipley years and the family members from that area?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: No. All I wanted to add was that my mother came from Washington, D. C. My father was in school at Howard; that's how he met my mother.
Interviewer: Could you tell us something about your mother?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: My mother's name was Isabel Wood and she had attended what they now call Minor's Teacher's College, at that time there in Washington. So she,
when she married my father and came to Memphis, that was at the other end of the Earth for her and I'm pretty sure my grandmother and all thought that she was never going to get back to Washington, D.C., if she had come this far south, in places they had never heard of before. But there was a doctor here a Dr. Burchett, who happened to be my godfather, that encouraged my father to stay here, and that's how he happened to stay in Memphis. Dr. Burchett was a leading physician here at that time. So he stayed and continued to remain here.
Interviewer: And where was his practice?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Oh, well, several places. He was on Beale Street, and part of the time, that was the first time, next to the Old Daisy Theatre, then he moved across
the street above the New Daisy Theatre. From there he went to 545 Mississippi Boulevard; he and Dr. J.H. Seward had an office together on Mississippi. Then he finally moved to 367 Hernando. And he retired from there...
Interviewer: So your mother was a teacher.
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Right, she taught a long time.
And so were you, right?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Yes, yes.
Interviewer: So how long did you teach in the public schools?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: 39 years.
Interviewer: 39 years! That's a long time to give your service to the training of boys and girls.
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Yes.
Interviewer: So could you tell us about - earlier we were talking, and I think you were quite an athlete.
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Yes. One of the things I like to mention about my father, being a general practitioner, back in those days, most of the people didn't have a lot of money. We used to get all kinds of food. And they would pay the bills in food. And we would have an automobile - a Stutz Black Hawk Special - now those are the cars you don't hear about, but we kept it in the garage for years and years and years. Somebody paid him with that car, and other things that people had, we never wanted for any food, and usually on Saturday or Sunday morning Daddy would take me with him and give me a list of names. He said, 'if you can collect this money, you can have it.' Of course, you know what that means. I would go up to the house and Daddy would sit in the car, and if I collected a dollar, you know, well, at the time, with the number of people I contacted, of course, that was mine, but it was almost impossible to do that. But, we had plenty of vegetables, plenty of chickens, sometimes we got hogs. We got everything. And it made it very convenient for us to have food, but there was just little or no money.
Interviewer: Right. Was it just the two of you children?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Yes. You know, talking about that, I can remember - my father always took both of us, you know, on calls. Oh, yes! At three o'clock in the morning, he had to get up and go. it didn't matter what time it was. In those days, doctors made house calls. But the patients knew us, and when we would drive up they would come out and we would get out of the car, and it would be out in the country, so we would go see the hogs and maybe the chickens, and things like that. And it was a family thing - he was a general practitioner and very much involved the patients and with the family. And I remember in the late fall we would camp out in Cooper's Park, which is all built up now, but his is the sort of doctor he was - a family doctor.
And he would sit with a patient for hours. And the people had such confidence in him. And of course with the medicine and the confidence, people would just believe about anything. He not only attended to their medical needs - he treated the whole person?
Interviewer: Right, and that's very good.
Interviewer: Will you also share with us some of the other activities that he was involved in in the community?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Oh, yes. Well, essentially he worked with Boy Scouts. He also worked with the NAACP. This was long before it was popular to be involved. I can remember my father visiting the Boy Scout camp out in Douglas Park, and he would go to D. Canales and the wholesale places and get food to take out to the camp, also he was a very good cook. I don't know whether we mentioned that he was the physician for the football teams at LeMoyne [College] and Boys Town.
Interviewer: And also when it was Owen College too?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Yes. Well, no, not really, because I taught at Owen while I was YMCA Secretary, and I taught classes there because they used the "Y" for their games and in return I taught a couple of physical-ed classes. I think I remember that he was one of the trustees for Owen College.
Interviewer: I knew that there was an affiliation with Owen and a trustee of St. Augustine Catholic Church of long standing.
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: They were very much involved, and when I went to Booker T. Washington playing football, he became the school doctor. Although the two high schools were Booker T. Washington and Manassas, they would send all their athletes to Daddy for him to see, and he had an affiliation with Campbell Clinic. Because I remember getting x-rays and I had a broken leg, and Campbell Clinic set that, and he was very concerned about the youngsters. Then, after I finished at Booker Washington, I went to LeMoyne, and he followed me right on there and was the school doctor and involved there. He was involved with Collins Chapel Hospital end the nuns because he taught some of them classes. Some of the classes they taught at Collins Chapel.
Interviewer: It is amazing the stick-to-it-tiveness that the black physicians had at that time. Before they came along because it was not fashionable to be assertive and it seems that though your Dad and Dr. Lynk were very assertive in their great work that they did in preparing young people for medical school, and I think it is amazing – it’s such a rich history. So how did the family get away to itself? How did he take the family for pleasure?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Well, I think one thing we used to follow my brother on football. He played football so my father would take all of us. He was very good to take all my friends along and we would get in the car and go to Lane College or go to Xavier, or wherever they were playing. He would take a whole bunch of girls and we would be sitting on the back seat giggling. You know how young people do. But, of course we always traveled back and forth to Washington because Washington was my mother’s home so we always took automobile trips.
I remember when my sister graduated from college - Howard University - my mother, daddy, and I drove. We started out and got to Jackson, Tennessee and the car broke down. They had to send back to Memphis for a motor. We stayed in Jackson, I guess, three days. This was when Dr. Grandberry was there and some of the friends and we had such a good time and finally got to Washington for her graduation.
Interviewer: So could you tell us about some of your experiences with the "Y" and come of your . . .
Dr. Christopher M. Roulhac, Jr.: Yes. After I finished LeMoyne in 1938, I was an All-American football player. I played in the first Black All Star game against the Chicago Bears -the first and only. And we played in Chicago and such names more familiar that the old athletes would know - Branislaw "Bronko" Nagurski and Sid Luckman (Professional Football l Hall of Fame, 1965) ,Cav "Iron Major" Cavanaugh - all those guys, and we were there for two or three weeks and we practiced in Washington Park and we played at Soldier Field.
After that I went to Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts to get my masters degree in physical education. Coming back to the South, my father and Dr. Watson at Arkansas AM & N were good friends. I went over there and worked for one year.
I came back to Memphis and then went to Albany State College in Albany, Georgia, where I coached an Olympic girl in 1948 and this is one of my pride and joys. This is the National Track and Field Hall of Fame that Alice Coachman was inducted in to. I was her coach and I was inducted at the same time. And, there are very few of those [inductees] around. So, we are in the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
And after the years I went to the YMCA from Memphis to Philadelphia and then I went through Cheney State College. It is the oldest black state owned college in the country, founded in 1837. I was director of admissions for about l5 years. And another one of my pride and joys is a watch. This was in 1984. We went to the Final Four in 1982 and we also went to the Final Four in 1984. We lost the championship to Louisiana Tech in '82 and the University of Tennessee beat us in 1984. So these are a couple of things that I cherish in my years of experience in coaching football, basketball and track and especially in girls' track.
For the first time in the history of Georgia when Alice Coachman came back from the Olympics, we had a motorcade from Atlanta to Albany and we stopped at Macon. We had police escorts, state police, and of course, with Alice being a native of Georgia, the doors would just open to us and this was quite a treat.
I used to follow her all over the country to different meets. And the name "Stella Walsh" - many people would know - was a Polish girl and Alice and Stella had many a contest in the dashes and after Stella died, it was rumored that .lie was not a lady - not a woman. When they tad an autopsy they found that she was not. She [Stella Walsh] had run against - had beat all the women but she was not a woman. But, these are things that many, many people around the country did not know until she actually died (Stella).
. . . have records that she (Alice Coachman) held many, many years. She [Alice Coachman] went to Tuskegee first and then to Auburn and while she was at Tuskegee she was the top track star of the country and then she came to Auburn and that’s were we me and thin I coached her to the Olympics.
Interviewer: What church do you attend?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: [I am a member of] the Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Yes, I was born and raised in that church. We've been a small mission and have struggled for years and years and years and our faithful few continue to struggle . . .
Interviewer: And do you attend the Episcopal Church?
Dr. Christopher M. Roulhac, Jr.: I too was born into the Episcopal Church. I was an altar boy and after I grew and became a man, I became a vestryman. When I moved to Philadelphia, a member of St. Luke's Germantown Episcopal Church, I was also a vestryman there also. So, I have been in the Episcopal Church just about all my life other than a couple of years I was in the Catholic Church.
Interviewer: Did your Dad write any articles that you know of in any of the medical journals?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: I'm not sure. Actually, I don't know.
Interviewer: The Roulhac name . . . I would take it that it’s probably French.
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Yes- And coming from the New Orleans area.
[Editor’s note: The name Roulhac has been traced to the 15th century France – Limoges. When the first European Roulhac, Psalmet, came to America from Limoges, France in 1777, New Orleans as we know it today, did not exist. African American Roulhac’s generally, as did most ex-slaves, took the surname of their first slave-owner.]
Interviewer: So could you tell us some of the relatives who are still in Chipley. Who are they?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Well, there are two girls. Grace Horn and Annie, but they are the last two daughters of my Daddy's brother, Joe Roulhac. And they are the only two in Chipley. We have people in Panama City, Jacksonville, Tampa, and Maude is in Pensacola- They are all around. Then, of course Judge Roulhac who is a judge in Akron, Ohio is a relative, and his brother's son [Dr Edgar Roulhac] is a vice president of student affairs at John Hopkins in Baltimore...
Interviewer: Do you ever get together for family reunions?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: No. No. We have been trying...
Interviewer: So where is your father - is he buried here?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Yes. [at] Elmwood [cemetery]. I would love to go out there and see the stones. They're right near the Church Mausoleum.
Interviewer: Now, this is the original home site?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: No.
Interviewer: Where were you born?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: I was born at 1395 Adelaide and I was over there 5 years. Then we moved to 359 Cambridge and you [Dr. Christopher M. Roulhac, Jr.] were born on Cambridge Street. We moved over here when I was about I I years old. So we have been living here.
Interviewer: It's a gorgeous home. Was it always like this or has it been added to?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: No' it was always like this. One of the good things about this house - my room was in the back upstairs, and of course LeMoyne [College] - I went to LeMoyne and I could hear the first bell and I could run and get to classes before the second bell- Of course, they had no dormitories and it made it very convenient...
Interviewer: So your father retired in 1963.
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Yes.
Interviewer: And then, so what did he do after he retired?
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: Well, he was too sick to do anything else.
Interviewer: Oh, right.
Mrs. Alma Roulhac Booth: And he just lived a couple of years after that.
Interviewer: Well, do either of you have any concluding remarks?
Dr. Christopher M. Roulhac, Jr.: Well' I think the thing that is important to me anyway is the love of our mother and father. It was from the beginning that we were going to college. We would get an education. We were a closely-knit family. Every Saturday, more or less, we got together as a family and we didn't go out. Everything was done right here at home. As I said, he followed me in sports. My mother, even though she worked every day, would come home and fix the meals. We looked forward to eating breakfast on Sunday morning and being together on Sunday.
This was kind of a family tradition. When I look at many of the families today and then look at our family back then, there is very little comparison because we know that we were loved and cared for by two people who not only took pride in us but also were involved in the community. My mother taught more than 4O years in Florida School and Kortrecht.
We ran across a lady the other day that my mother taught in Kortrecht and Florida...And we look at some of the people they taught and the influence that Daddy had on youngsters and we got that same type of thing. Working with the YMCA, working as director of admissions in college, we cared for people. And sometimes youngsters come up to me and say, "Dr. Roulhac, I'm so glad that you let me into Cheney [State University, Chester, PA]. I was a little older but I appreciate your taking a chance on me.
I had faith in people . . . we all had faith in people . . .when you look at my sister at Keel School and special education and being involved. Right now, she's involved in the church home where they have these children. This is the legacy we got from our parents.
Interviewer: I think, in reading the history of Miles Lynk and of your father and others, it seems like this was what has helped to pave the way. It seems as though these people came along before to have had such a vision to make an investment. I think that's so important and I think that's going to be the survival of the Black race; if we can make investments. But I think too, that what is happening is there are so many people who get their sheepskins and feel they have arrived. But I think it was Dr. King who said that none of us have arrived if there are still those who are oppressed. And so I think both of you are a credit not only to the Black race or the African heritage, but I think that is a credit to the training of your parents. You are to be commended for the great investment you have made- I am certainly grateful that you have allowed us the opportunity to visit with you-
Dr. Christopher M. Roulhac, Jr.: And I really do have faith in the future of this land and I know that we have some good students coming along that will be leaders and I know that we are going to have a better world...
The Dr. Christopher M. Roulhac House, built in 1914, is a two-story, frame, vernacular American Four-square style house with a modified rectangular plan, located at 810 McLemore Avenue in Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee. The house is located on a double lot in the Pearson Subdivision, established in 1879 as a residential subdivision with fifty-foot lots. The house fronts south onto McLemore Avenue and is set behind a modest cultivated lawn that slopes sharply towards the sidewalk. There are no remaining outbuildings on the property. The neighborhood is composed mainly of one-story bungalows from the 1910s and 20s with varying set backs. The property is in good condition and retains its integrity.
More information is available at: http://www.roulhacmansion.com/