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Historic Marker honors the Claytor Family's contributions to health care during Jim Crow

Roanoke Physician Dr. Conrad Claytor (Dr. John Claytor's grandson) and former Roanoke Mayor Nelson Harris celebrate the unveiling of the historic marker.
Jeff Bossert/Radio IQ
Roanoke Physician Dr. Conrad Claytor (Dr. John Claytor's grandson) and former Roanoke Mayor Nelson Harris celebrate the unveiling of the historic marker.

There’s now a permanent reminder in downtown Roanoke of one of the city’s first Black-owned medical centers.

A state historic marker, unveiled Friday, celebrates the achievements of the Claytor Memorial Clinic. In July of 1920, John B. Claytor Sr., who began his practice in Roanoke in 1907, bought the land the clinic would stand on, and built it in memory of his wife, Roberta Woodfin Claytor.

Opened in 1948, it operated at a time when many were denied health care due to Jim Crow laws. The family practice, headed up by Dr. John Claytor, challenged eminent domain laws, operating in the Gainsboro area until 1994. The clinic still stands, but was damaged by fire in 1995.

"It mission was simple - to serve any patient who needed care," said Roanoke Vice Mayor Joe Cobb.“While what stands here may appear to be a shell of what was – teeming within these walls is an unquenchable spirit of love, innovation, and compassion, awaiting a resurrection of newfound purpose.”
 
Dr. Conrad Claytor is John Claytor's grandson. He says his family has now practiced medicine in Roanoke for 117 years.

“I think of the enormous obstacles they faced. Trying to carve out a living while raising a family in a segregated Roanoke, and under the Jim Crow laws of the south. They always faced, front and center, their faith in God, their love of family, and their ever-ending perseverance.”

The Claytor Memorial Clinic
Jeff Bossert/Radio IQ
The Claytor Memorial Clinic building, which opened in 1948, and operated for 46 years.

The Claytor family has had several offers on the clinic building, but Conrad Claytor says they don’t want it commercialized. Instead, he says it should help bring about a revitalization of the Gainsboro neighborhood.

One hundred four years after Dr. John Claytor bought the property where the historic marker now stands, Conrad Taylor said nearly 40 family members were present Friday to see it unveiled.

"They represent the second, third, fourth, and fifth generations of the Claytor family," he said. "I am certain that John and Roberta would delight in seeing how well their family has grown. They would also be pleased to see that their great-grandson, my nephew, Dr. Richard Claytor, is carrying on with their dreams."

That office in Roanoke - is named the Claytor Memorial Clinic.

Corrected: July 8, 2024 at 12:09 PM EDT
Corrected typo in subheadline
Jeff Bossert is Radio IQ's Morning Edition host.