Breathing new life into Dr. Coleman’s dream and the Arthur Coleman Medical Center

by JayVon Muhammad, CEO of Marin City Health & Wellness Center’s Bayview Hunters Point Clinic

It’s fitting that a midwife should be in charge of the rebirth of the Coleman Medical Center, founded by the beloved Dr. Arthur Coleman, who oldtimers say delivered nearly all the babies in Bayview Hunters Point for decades.
It’s fitting that a midwife should be in charge of the rebirth of the Coleman Medical Center, founded by the beloved Dr. Arthur Coleman, who oldtimers say delivered nearly all the babies in Bayview Hunters Point for decades.

On March 1, medical services returned to the historic Arthur H. Coleman Medical Center at Third and Ingerson. As a community healthcare clinic, we are honored to reopen a place that is special to this community – and to me, personally. I spent part of my life in Bayview Hunters Point.

These new services carry forward the spirit of Dr. Arthur H. Coleman, who campaigned for better service for African American patients. He also fought for more opportunities for young people from ethnic minorities to enter medicine. In the 1960s, his practice in this building became a magnet for young Black physicians and healthcare specialists.

As a community healthcare clinic, we are honored to reopen a place that is special to this community.

Born in Philadelphia, Dr. Coleman entered Penn State in 1937 as one of 13 Black students among a student body of 7,000. When he was not assigned a dorm room, a janitor let him stay in a small closet with a wash basin. He went on to graduate from Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., and then interned in St. Louis before served at a military hospital in Alameda.

He made San Francisco his home and Bayview Hunters Point his life. Dr. Coleman felt strongly about how people should be treated as patients. Those who saw him often came with injuries that had been sustained at work. While Coleman treated the wounds, he became frustrated by his inability to help those in his care navigate the legal issues contributing to these injuries. So he went back to law school at night, graduating from Golden Gate University in 1956. At the time, he was one of a handful of people in the U.S. with dual degrees in medicine and law, and the only African American.

Dr. Coleman made house calls nearly till the day he died. Here, at the age of 81, he visits his friend and another pillar of Bayview Hunters Point, Sam Jordan. – Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, SF Chronicle
Dr. Coleman made house calls nearly till the day he died. Here, at the age of 81, he visits his friend and another pillar of Bayview Hunters Point, Sam Jordan. – Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, SF Chronicle

Our building was created by Dr. Coleman to improve the health experience for patients needing lab tests and specialized treatment. At the time, this required traveling to various providers across the city. In 1960 he opened a two-story medical building at 6301 Third St. to bring those services to the neighborhood. Patients could use x-ray, pharmacy and laboratory services and visit a surgeon, dermatologist, dentist, opthamologist and obstetrician.

By the next decade, dwindling state medical reimbursements made it difficult for young doctors to make enough to pay back student loans and these specialists left Bayview for more lucrative practices elsewhere. He again became a sole practitioner, one of the last privately practicing family doctors in this community.

Bayview Hunters Point residents celebrate the rebirth of the Coleman Medical Center at the open house in March.
Bayview Hunters Point residents celebrate the rebirth of the Coleman Medical Center at the open house in March.

Throughout his life, Dr. Coleman produced opportunities for those in Bayview Hunters Point and minorities in general. He served as the first chairman of San Francisco’s Economic Opportunity Council and helped increase local voter registration. As chairman of the board of the National Medical Fellowship, he awarded grants to minority students and increased awareness for underserved populations.

In 1998, a parade down Third Street honored his 50 years of medical practice serving the residents of Bayview Hunters Point. The community paid tribute to him as he rode along the parade route. In his memory, and through this clinic, we do the same now. We honor Dr. Coleman as a man who came through his own hardships to gather people together in serving others.

The new Marin City staff gather in the Coleman Medical Center waiting room.
The new Marin City staff gather in the Coleman Medical Center waiting room.

When people congratulate us for what’s going on today at this clinic, it’s an extraordinary, shared success. We have had so much support, especially from his daughter, Pat Coleman. In her words, “I hope we start thinking in terms of this being a movement with boots on the ground to address the health disparities in this community.”

Each time I enter our clinic at the Arthur H. Coleman Medical Center, I am filled with gratitude. As we expand medical services in Bayview, we stand on the shoulders of a giant.

Call us for an appointment at 415-339-8813 and visit us online at www.bayviewclinic.org to learn more.

Marin City Health and Wellness Center CEO JayVon Muhammad, a certified professional midwife who has spent the last decade of her career fighting to eliminate disparities in pregnancy outcomes for poor women and women of color, can be reached at info@MarinCityClinic.org.