FROM A DUNDAS COTTON MILL
BOY TO BECOME NOTED FOR
HIS SCIENCE AS A
The readers of the Spectator, and indeed every Hamiltonian, will, no doubt, read with pleasure the story of a colored boy who began life in the Dundas cotton mill, and who has become a celebrated surgeon and lecturer in the training camp activities of the war department of the United States in the social hygiene division of the army section. It reads like a romance, yet it tells the story of what ambition and perseverance will do in the training of a life.
“Charles Victor Roman was born at Williamsport, Penn., on the 4th of July, 1868, the child of colored parents. His father was a slave in the state of Maryland, but made his escape from bondage along in the fifties and after many serious adventures finally landed in Canada, by way of the underground railroad. Here for the first time in his life, he could breathe the air of freedom. After the close of the civil war, which gave freedom to over four million slaves under the proclamation of the greatest benefactor of the century, President Abraham Lincoln, he returned to the United States with his young Canadian wife, and located at Williamsport. Dr. Roman’s father was a broom maker, a trade he had learned while in slavery, at which he was an expert workman. The Pennsylvania atmosphere was not quite clear in those early days after the war for a colored man, so the father, with his young wife and baby boy, hiked back to where freedom was alike for black and white, and they made their home in Burford, in the county of Brant, where his wife’s parents lived. Dr. Roman’s parents lived in Burford until 1876, when they moved to Dundas, where young Roman began life as a worker in the cotton mill. That young colored boy had ideas of life beyond a weaver’s shuttle, and when the opportunity for a education in the Dundas night school he took advantage of it, and after his day’s work in the cotton mill, he spent a couple of hours every night at school, and on his return home, studied far into the night.
“The colored boy worked in the Dundas mill for some four or five years, when his parents made their home in Hamilton, and here he entered the Cannon street school having for his teacher Professor Morton, who took more than ordinary interest in his colored student because of his bright intellect and his ambition to acquire an education. In the course of time, he became a student in the collegiate institute, graduating from there in 1883.
“To show the nerve and ambition of the boy, from his early days in the Dundas cotton mill, he had made up his mind to become a doctor of medicine, and with that end in view, all of his studies were directed along that line, and that he has reached the height of his ambition, the sequel will show. The story of his life can the better be told in his own way. After graduating from the Hamilton collegiate institute, the young cotton mill boy went south, and in the state of Kentucky began life as a school teacher, having for his pupils the children of black and white parents. While engaged in teaching in the daytime, he elevated himself with elementary medical works and spent the long nights in their study, till finally he gave up school teaching and entered a medical college, from which he graduated in the year 1890.He then entered a college in Nashville, Tenn., under the presidency of the Rev. John A. Kumler, where he took a full literary course, graduating with honors in his class.
“In order to come up to his ideal of what a doctor should know to become a master in his profession, Dr. Roman went to Europe and took a post-graduate course in the Royal London Opthamimic hospital in the diseases of throat and ear. Then he went to Paris, in France, to pursue other lines of study in a post-graduate course. Feeling that he had the foundation for a life study in surgical and medical research, he returned to his home in Nashville, where he was at once called to a professor’s chair in the medical college in that city. One of his pet research studies was in the line of social hygiene, in which department he is now engaged as an inspector and lecturer in the United States army. Dr. Roman has had conferred upon him by leading universities in the United States the degrees of A.M., M.D. and L.LD., none of which he would accept until he passed the most severe examination. He is proud of his degree titles because they have come to him as a recognition of his scholarship and his research in medical science.
“What better illustration of the actuality for the democracy for which the world is now contending on the battlefields of France and Belgium than that furnished by the career of Dr. Charles Victor Roman in his life history, beginning from his birth as the son of a Maryland slave who escaped to freedom via the underground railroad to Canada, whose young life was spent as a boy in the Dundas cotton mill and worked his way to an education, graduating first from the Hamilton Collegiate institute into the ranks of a Kentucky school teacher, preparing himself for the special work of a surgeon and doctor of medicine; passing through all the preparatory departments till he reached the height of his boyish ambition, and finally being called into the service of his native land as an official lecturer to the American army?
FROM A BOY IN THE DUNDAS
COTTON MILL TO BEING
BY THE UNITED STATES
GOVERNMENT IN THE
FIELD OF MEDICAL
“Here is the doctor’s story, as he told it to the General conference of the Methodist church in Canada the other afternoon as the representative of the African Methodist Episcopal church of the United States :
‘ A defense of democracy may justify a personal allusion, and a message may be illuminated by the knowledge of the messenger. The past rises before like a dream. The years recede. I am a boy again. The Dundas Cotton mill is a thriving actuality. It is the noon hour. A group of boys ranging in years from 8 to 16, discussing the night school just opened. Ambition is rife and imagination is active. Talk about your sunset of life and its mythical lore! Give me the golden decorations of youthful hope, when every byway is bowered with roses and every highway is arched with a rainbow of promise. The drama of the ambitious run from departmental bosses to managers, directors, even owners of mills. The hour is drawing to a close, and two boys have said nothing. ‘Arthur, what are you going to be ?’ was asked of the handsome-faced little fellow with curly hair and deep, dreamy blue eyes. There was a tinge of sarcasm in the question that showed the general resentment at the individual silence during the general discussion. It was given with a deliberate, if not defiant, clearness, ‘I am going to be a professor of music,’ he said amid uproarious and derisive laughter.
“The colored boy at his side was forgotten, but not for long. The same interrogation reached him from the same source, with added sarcasm. ‘I am going to be a doctor of medicine,’ he answered. It broke up the meeting.
“More than two score have passed, and many tomorrows have become yesterdays. Dread consumption’s ghastly form has borne away the aspiring young musician, not, however, before he led an orchestra. And the colored boy who wanted to be a doctor of medicine? He is an official medical lecturer to the soldiers of the greatest republic the world has ever seen. Just now he is a fraternal delegate to a religious body in session near the scenes of his youthful dreams.
“One other biographical fact. My forbearers reached Canada by the mystical underground railroad. Need I say anything more to interpret to you the spirit of the message I bring? My soul is full of music, and I bring to you a fraternal message from a million hopeful hearts whose parents in the dark days of chattel slavery had the courage to sing ‘Ride on, Jesus, ride on.’
“The African Episcopal Methodist church is one of the spiritual lighthouses of the twelve million colored Americans who now have 350,000 of their number marshaled for the right to be free. The African Methodist Episcopal church not only desires fraternal relations with the great Canadian church, but desires this great church to take a fraternal interest in harmonizing and energizing colored Methodism in Canada.”
“Dr. Roman closed his hearty fraternal greeting to the conference by expressing the sentiment that is a universal longing of the human heart : it is the soul of democracy, and is free from the taint of selfishness or desire to dominate the sense of superiority, by quoting the thought happily expressed by Kipling:
‘When earth’s last picture is painted,
And the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest color has faded
And the youngest critic has died
We shall rest; and faith, we shall need it;
Lie down for an aeon or two
Till the Master of all good workmen
Shall set us to work anew.
Then those that are good shall be happy,
Shall sit in a golden chair,
And splash it at a ten-league canvas
With brushes of comet’s hair.
They shall find real paints to draw from,
Magdalene, Peter and Paul.
They shall work for an age at a sitting
And never get tired at all.
Then only the Master shall praise them,
And only the Master shall blame.
And none shall work for money,
And no one shall work for fame.
But each for the joy of working,
And in each in a separate star,
Shall pint the thing as he sees it,
For the God of things as they are.
At the conclusion of the fraternal greet to the General conference on that afternoon, Dr. Roman was agreeably surprised by a group of ministers and laymen who had been boy students with him in that Dundas night school long ago. What is more fraternal of hearty than a meeting of old boys renewing their youth as they come together after many years? Dignity of titles or conditions are forgotten, and instead of reverend or doctor, or even a common mister, it was Charley and Josh, Tom and Bill, and so on. It was a happy half hour those ancient Dundas boys spent in the church vestry, and it will never be forgotten by them. Blest be the ties that unite old boy friendships.”