How one pharmacist conquered discrimination

July 21, 2016

Earlier this month, the city of Cambridge, Mass. honored retired pharmacist Emory J. “Doc” Clark by renaming a street corner after him.

Earlier this month, the city of Cambridge, Mass. honored retired pharmacist Emory J. “Doc” Clark by renaming a street corner after him.

Cambridge officials renamed the corner of Fern Street and Concord Avenue to Emory Clark Square in recognition of Clark, 90, who was the first African-American to own and operate a pharmacy in the city.

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The dedication ceremony topped off a long and hard-fought career in pharmacy for Clark. The World War II veteran graduated from Xavier University in New Orleans in 1952, with the goal of opening his own pharmacy. He knew he would have to gain experience as a working pharmacist first, though.

So, according to his wife, Xonnabel Clark, he applied at several different pharmacies, but could not get a job for several months. One pharmacist told him ‘I’m just not sure how my customers are going to receive you’ [because of his race], his wife recalled.

Finally, Cole’s Drug (which is no longer operating in the area) hired him–not as a pharmacist, but as a drug clerk. “It only paid $58 a week, but he took it because he needed a job and he knew he would be able to work up to pharmacist,” Xonnabel Clark said.

In fact, Clark worked up to senior pharmacist and worked for the company for several years. Still, he wanted to own a pharmacy, but didn’t have the money to open a business. To raise the capital needed, Clark quit his pharmacy job and began operating a push cart, selling snow cones and ice cream. His business was successful and he eventually began operating an ice cream truck. “Once he makes up his mind to do something, he does it,” Xonnabel Clark said.

 

Eventually, in 1971, Clark was able to save enough money to open Emory’s Pharmacy at Concord Avenue and Corporal Burns Road in Cambridge. That is when he faced further discrimination.

The city zoning board said he could only have the license to operate the pharmacy as long as he would sell only pharmaceutical items, not sundries and other products. Residents from the neighborhood also opposed the license, saying that the drug addicts from Roxbury (a black neighborhood in Boston) would start coming to the African American-run pharmacy to get drugs.

However, in Emory Pharmacy’s second year of operation, the zoning board changed its previous restriction, allowing sundries and other non-drug items to be sold. “We overcame those difficulties and, for 20 years, he operated a successful pharmacy, serving the neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods,” Xonnabel Clark said.

After he retired from pharmacy, Clark continued to operate his mobile canteen truck for another 20 years. He officially retired last year.