FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Sanders Marshall Jr., one of the first African-American pharmacists in Fort Worth to work alongside white pharmacists, found early on that his talents would never change the color of his skin.
The 80-year-old man remembers feeling triumphant when he was hired by a downtown drug store as a pharmacist in the early 1960s — a place where he once was a porter — only to have to work in the back of the store for a while so that white patrons wouldn't know a black man had filled their prescription.
The woman who owned Ward's Cut-Rate Drugs in downtown Fort Worth also didn't know if her other employees would agree to work with him.
"I got several nasty phone calls. No doubt, there were some (patrons) who didn't make comments at all but they just didn't come back," he said.
There was one Granbury woman who asked Marshall: "When are we going to hire white pharmacists?"
"Well, I don't know," Marshall remembers telling her. "I am not in the hiring business."
Eventually, Marshall won the Granbury woman over.
He went on to integrate a host of drug stores in the area, propelling him to the front of race relations in Fort Worth's pharmacies.
"He was a trailblazer with pharmacists," said Fort Worth School Board member T.A. Sims, who went to Texas Southern University in Houston with Marshall. "(Marshall) was an exceptional pharmacist. He was raised here in Fort Worth. He was a native son."
Marshall credits a boyhood encounter with a pharmacist for igniting his passion to help.
As a 10-year-old boy, he sat and watched his father struggle to breathe. In that moment, he wanted nothing more than to heal his namesake.
He had just returned from the drug store on the north side of the city, where a pharmacist said his prescription would have Marshall's father, who was dying of cancer, breathing better soon.
Fifteen minutes passed.
"Then Daddy was breathing really well. I thought this guy had just used some magic. My dad was breathing," Marshall said, his eyes lit like he was still the 10-year-old boy he was when a pharmacist eased his father's pain.
"I said to myself a little prayer. I said 'Lord, if you will let me grow up to become a pharmacist, I will spend the rest of my days healing people.' That's an elementary way to think about it, but it is how I felt," Marshall said
Years went by. Marshall graduated from high school and went into the U.S. Air Force, serving four years before returning to Fort Worth, upset he hadn't attained the rank he'd hoped. He said facing life was rougher than he thought.
He got a job at Ward's Cut-Rate Drugs as a porter, replacing his friend who was heading off to college.
"One day, as I was coming up the stairs with a load of goods to stock the shelves, something came over me. It was a reminder of the prayer I had prayed as a little boy. I told myself 'I am here for a reason,'" he said.
By the end of the year Marshall's bags were packed for Texas Southern, at that time the only pharmacy program allowing blacks to enroll.
"(Being a pharmacist) was something I was sincere about, but as I grew up I found out what the world was like," he said.
Sims said that Marshall was a "hard-working student."
"You went to pharmacy school and you knew you had a lot to do," said Sims. "It was one of those courses that you had not only required courses but you had to deeply involve yourself."
After graduation from college in the early 1960s, Marshall returned to Fort Worth, where Jim Crow laws ruled and black business owners could only serve black customers. In 1909, according to Fort Worth historian Richard Selcer, Fort Worth only had two drugstores for the city's nearly 7,000 blacks. Fifty years later, when Marshall came back to his hometown with hopes of fulfilling his childhood dream, much remained the same.
He went to work for Flint Drugs, a drug store on the south side. Staying for only a few months, Marshall visited the woman who managed him at Ward's Cut-Rate Drugs and asked for a job.
"She wanted to hire me on the spot. But it wasn't until two months later she really hired me. The unique thing about her hiring me and the success is that she set out a policy in her store," Marshall said.