Sumter's 1st black doctor topic at genealogical society


Physicians C.W. Birnie and Ruth Gardena Harrison-Birnie, the first black doctor and pharmacist to work out of their own practices in Sumter, will be the topic at Monday's meeting of the Sumter County Genealogical Society. Catherine Thomas, an area resident and contract researcher for the society, will be the speaker at the 7:30 p.m. meeting at Swan Lake Presbyterian Church, 122 Haynsworth St.

Thomas will present a "descriptive journey into the lives" of the Birnies from their childhoods through their family life and their impact. The couple shared a building at 5 W. Liberty St. for many years, working together closely. Harrison-Birnie was the first black, female pharmacist in the state to own her own pharmacy, the People's Pharmacy, which many local citizens may remember.

Thomas' talk will also explore the Harrison family history including the Birnies' daughter, Anna Louise Birnie-McDonald, Johnson Chestnut Whittaker and Dr. Robert Shaw Wilkinson Sr.

Detroit native Thomas is a retired federal officer with the Department of Justice. She received her Master of Science in Law, graduating Summa Cum Laude from Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. Her Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies was earned in 2005 from the University of Maryland University College; the degree includes a certification in Paralegal Studies.

Also a graduate of the University of South Carolina with an Associate of Arts degree, Thomas is a member of Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church and the mother of one daughter.

The Sumter County Genealogical Society meets monthly from September through May, usually on the third Monday. Visitors are encouraged to attend. Admission is free to the public, and refreshments will be served following the presentation. Interested persons can join the society at the meeting. Membership includes four newsletters during the year and free use of the Sumter County Genealogical Society Research Center. Annual dues are $30 for an individual membership and $35 for family. Call the society's research center at (803) 774-3901.