Cleon Flowers (1913–2002)
Cleon Aurelius Flowers Sr., an African-American physician from Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), was reported to be the first physician in the country to deliver viable conjoined twins successfully during a home birth. During his fifty-nine-year career as a physician, he earned a reputation as a compassionate and generous healthcare provider in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.
Cleon Aurelius Flowers was born in Stamps (Lafayette County) on July 26, 1913. His father, Alonza William (A. W.) Flowers, was a laborer in sawmills who later became an insurance agent for Universal Life Insurance Company, and his mother, Beulah Sampson Flowers, was a teacher, community leader, and political activist. His parents also owned and operated the A. W. Flowers and Sons grocery store in downtown Stamps. His older brother, W. Harold Flowers Sr., became a prominent civil rights activist and attorney in Arkansas. His younger brother, Curtis V. Flowers Sr., also became a prominent attorney and mortician in Houston, Texas.
Cleon Flowers attended segregated schools in Stamps, graduating from Stamps Colored High School. Because secondary education in Stamps ended at the eighth grade, Flowers had to complete his high school education at Philander Smith College in Little Rock (Pulaski County). In 1939, he graduated from Arkansas AM&N College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) with a bachelor’s degree in biology. Although some of Flowers’s contemporaries thought that he would become a preacher, he decided to become a physician. He graduated from Meharry Medical College in 1943. That same year, he married Martha Raspberry of Pine Bluff. Five of their six children became healthcare providers.
After completing an internship at Meharry Medical College and a residency at Thomas C. McRae Memorial Sanatorium in Alexander (Pulaski and Saline Counties), Dr. Flowers established his medical practice in 1945 at the Masonic Temple, a professional building for African Americans, in Pine Bluff. Because African Americans in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County had limited access to hospital facilities due to institutional racism and segregation, Flowers performed most of his medical procedures in his five-room office (which included a waiting room, an exam room, a mini-pharmacy, and an X-ray machine) and in the homes of his patients. This changed in the 1950s, when he and Dr. Clyde A. Lawlah became the first black physicians on staff at Davis Hospital (which later became Jefferson Regional Medical Center).
Flowers operated a patient-centered medical practice. He never denied quality healthcare to the indigent and uninsured. Although he accepted insurance plans and cash for his services, he also accepted unorthodox forms of payment. In a September 5, 1999, interview with the Pine Bluff Commercial, he said, “I even got paid with pigs, chickens, home-grown vegetables and wild game.” He also maintained flexible operational hours so that his patients would not have to miss work for their medical visits. Furthermore, he often made home visits. Flowers successfully delivered babies who were in the transverse lie position (horizontal in the uterus) during home births when most of his colleagues would typically perform Caesarean sections (C-sections). Flowers received national media coverage in 1954 after he successfully delivered a viable set of conjoined twins born at home.
Flowers was a member of organizations such as the National Medical Association (NMA); the Arkansas Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association (AMDPA); Southeast Arkansas Medical, Dental, Pharmaceutical Association (SAMDPA); the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Arkansas AM&N College Board of Trustees; the 20th Century Club; and the Prince Hall Free and Accepted Masons, Eastern Light Lodge No. 6.
On July 26, 2002, his birthday, Flowers died at his home in Pine Bluff. At the time, he was reported to be the oldest practicing physician in the state of Arkansas. He is interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Pine Bluff. In 2014, the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail honored Flowers and nine other individuals for their efforts toward equality in healthcare.
For additional information:
“And So Shall She Reap: The Seeds of Beulah Flowers Exhibit.” University Museum and Cultural Center, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Beulah Flowers and Family Collection (Unprocessed). University Museum and Cultural Center. University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
“Cleon A. Flowers, Sr.” Biographies. University Museum and Cultural Center. University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
“Dr. Cleon A. Flowers Sr.” Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail, University of Arkansas at Little Rock Anderson Center on Race and Ethnicity. http://arkansascivilrightsheritage.org/dr-cleon-flowers/ (accessed January 6, 2018).
“Dr. Cleon A. Flowers Sr., 89, Noted Pine Bluff, AR Physician, Succumbs.” Jet, September 16, 2002, pp. 17–18.
“Flowers Family Will Be Subject of UAPB Exhibit.” Pine Bluff Commercial, March 10, 1999, p. 4C.
Jones-Sneed, Kim. “A Statesman in Doctor’s Robes.” Pine Bluff Commercial, February 4, 1996, pp. 1A, 4A.
“Jubilee: Celebrating Our Cultural Heritage.” Pine Bluff Commercial, April 18, 1999, p. 4D.
Lawson, Chad. “Old-Fashioned Doctor Practices Modern Medicine, while ‘Chugging Along.’” Pine Bluff Commercial, September 5, 1999, p. 1D.
“The Week’s Best Photos.” Jet, August 12, 1954, p. 31.
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
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