In 1920, Dr. Jesse Leonidas Leach moved to Flint from his birthplace of Nashville, Tennessee. Flint was growing at a frenetic pace – industry was booming and blacks and whites alike were lured by the hopes of a job and a better life. Dr. Leach set up a medical practice and began to immediately make that hope a reality for himself and, most importantly, for others. He was a pioneer for civil rights in Flint and the nation, and a shining example of the kind of citizen to aspire to be.
Born in 1892, Leach was orphaned at age seven and adopted by Dr. Paul Eve and his wife. He graduated from Nashville’s Meharry Medical College in 1914. In 1917, he and a friend volunteered to serve as Army medical officers in the first World War. In France, Leach was assigned as surgeon of the 349th Machine Gun Battalion, the 365th Field Hospital and then, the 317th Ammunition Train. Before his discharge in 1919, he had risen to the rank of Captain.
Upon return from the war, Leach was asked to lead a black military unit in the Jim Crow parade in Nashville. He quickly refused, stating, “we were not behind in France, and I will be damned if I will put my men behind over here.” His next move was to Flint.
“The most important black person in Flint history.”
Melvin Banner, Black Historian and Teacher
Upon his arrival in Flint, he gained the post of president of the Flint Chapter of the NAACP and would go on to serve the organization’s national board for 18 years. After establishing his medical practice, Dr. Leach wasted no time in going to work for civil rights in the city. He organized Michigan’s first African American Legion Post. He was the first African American to serve on the staff of city physicians, the first elected to the Flint Board of Supervisors, the first to serve as chairman of the Genesee County Board of Health and the first African American city medical examiner. He was a member of the Flint Welfare Committee for over 20 years.
In 1950, he met with the Governor of Michigan to discuss attempts to secure fair employment practice legislation in the state while he held the post of president of the State NAACP. He was also the first African American to be president of the Michigan Academy of General Practice and the National Medical Association.
Dr. Leach passed away in 1981 at the age of 89. In Flint, he was a man of integrity respected by blacks and whites, alike. His legacy is one of selflessness, brotherhood and equality for all.