February 28: Dr. Robert T. Burt


Clarksville's medical history will forever align with Black heritage.

Shortly after the dawn of the 20th century, on March 6, 1906, Dr. Robert T. Burt, then 33, made medical history when he opened the city's first hospital. It was a day that eventually led to the breaking of color barriers in a town where nearly half the population was African American at that time.

Born in Attola County, Mississippi, on Nov. 25, 1873, Burt was the third child of ex-slaves Robert and Sylvia (Sanders) Burt, according to Tennessee State University's library data.

He was highly educated, graduating from the Nashville-based, historically Black Walden University in 1893 and Meharry Medical College in 1897. Burt's post-graduate education and work history included stints at Harvard University and the Mayo Clinic, where he observed new surgical procedures.

Burt relocated to Clarksville in the early 1900's and opened a home infirmary on Front Street, now known as Riverside Drive.

The Home Infirmary initially stood on a hillside overlooking the Cumberland River. It was operated by Burt and several doctors and nurses, including Burt's wife, Emma, a nurse. It offered assistance to African-American patients, and it was the only hospital in town until 1916.

By 1923, the infirmary had 32 rooms with the modern conveniences of the time period, according to the TSU library. It was recognized by the National Medical Association and operated for more than 40 years, eventually offering services to patients of all races.

Burt contracted with the Black Diamond Mining Company to care for the business's African-American employees, and he treated the obstetric patients at Fort Campbell before Blanchfield Army Hospital was constructed, library documents say.

During his career, Burt performed roughly 400 procedures each year.

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