Blogs > Liberty and Power > Maverick and Hero

Dec 17, 2009 9:40 pm

Maverick and Hero

I was reluctant to read Black Maverick, the biography by David and Linda Beito of T.R.M. Howard, an early civil rights figure in the Mississippi Delta. There were several reasons for my resistance. First, Howard was unknown to me (and as a teen-ager, I spent the"Freedom Summer" of 1964 as a civil rights worker in Clarksdale, Mississippi, so I thought I knew a fair bit). Second, Howard carries some emotional baggage—he ended his career as a well-paid but controversial abortionist in Chicago (after years of being an illegal abortionist there and in Mississippi). That struck me as somewhat less than heroic. And there were other things—philandering, driving the latest Cadillac, and his late-in-life avocation as a big-game hunter. Not my cup of tea.

But the Beitos’ book changed my views enormously—softened them, one might say. The Beitos do a terrific job of making this larger-than-life figure believable and placing him in the context of mid-century Mississippi. Yes, he was heroic! While they are objective in their analysis, they convey an image of Howard as a restless individual who refused to be confined by racism in the South or legalistic restraint in the North. He was, the Beitos write, “fearless in waging war against inequality and disenfranchisement, but he was not a man to tilt at windmills.”

Howard, a physician, journalist (in his early days in California), and businessman, did indeed have a major role in founding the civil rights movement in the Mississippi Delta. Historians should not ignore him. Thanks to the Beitos' solid research, they do not have to anymore.

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David Beito - 12/18/2009

Thank you!