Biographical / Historical
Grace Marilynn James, the fourth of seven children, was born in Charleston, West Virginia, on August 12, 1923. Her father, Edward L. James, Sr., owned James Produce Company and her mother, Stella Grace Shaw James, was a homemaker and former postmistress of Institute, West Virginia.
After attending high schools in Charleston and Institute, James entered the West Virginia State College (WVSC). Graduating with a B.A. degree in 1944, she did post-graduate work at the University of Chicago and WVSC. She entered Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated in 1950.
James worked during her internship and residency at Babies Hospital and the Vanderbilt Clinic, units of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, and Harlem Hospital, where she completed her studies. She took further training at Creedmoor State Hospital, Queens Village, in 1965 and 1966 in child psychiatry. During this time she was a fellow in the care of handicapped children at the Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Clinic of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University, Jacobi Hospital.
James entered the full time practice of general pediatrics in Louisville in 1953. Besides conducting her private practice, James worked for the Louisville and Jefferson County Department of Health as well as the West End Day Care Center. Following James' return to Kentucky in 1966 from her studies in New York, she became director of the diagnostic and evaluation division of Frankfort State Hospital and School. She later headed the "mental retardation" division of the hospital.
While building her private practice, James was active in a wide range of civic and professional organizations in Louisville. She advocated quality education and health concerns in the city as well as in the Louisville schools. Among other initiatives and activities, James founded the West Louisville Health Education Program and, in the 1970s, headed the Council on Urban Education. She also developed a program for the diagnosis and evaluation of mental illness in mentally retarded children.
In the early years of her life, she was a member of the Honorary Mathematical Society at WVSC, an officer of the student council, and the president of the house intern staff. Sheexterned at numerous institutions and served as physician at Camp Woodland in Phoenicia, New York.
James devoted considerable energy and time to many medical organizations on the local, state, and national levels. She held offices as secretary, vice-president, president, chairperson delegate, and committee member in several of the groups.
Her greatest vision was the establishment of a walk-in health clinic which would serve the people of Louisville, especially in the Russell, California, Shawnee and Portland neighborhoods. She dreamed of curbing disease and the high infant-mortality rate. She realized part of her goal through the founding of the West Louisville Medical Center. It eventually closed due to financial difficulties.
James also taught at the University of Louisville School of Medicine as assistant clinical professor of pediatrics. She received a belated plaque in 1986 for twenty-five years of teaching, which was due her in 1978. She was reported to be the first black woman on the faculty. James may also have been the first to gain membership in the Jefferson County Medical Society and the first African-American woman staff member of Louisville General Hospital.
James was married to Charles Carlisle O'Bannion, of Madison, Indiana, from 1952 to 1957. O'Bannion graduated from Meharry with a degree in dental technology in 1948. Following their divorce, James adopted a son, David.
After her death on January 14, 1989, contemporaries remembered her as a "dedicated civil-rights leader," "an outstanding social achiever for the poor" and a person about whom it was known that "when she made up her mind to do something, she did it."