The surgeon who led the way for MLK and others

tags: TRM Howard

David T. Beito is a research fellow at the Independent Institute and professor of history at the University of Alabama, and Linda Royster Beito chairs the department of social sciences at Stillman College. They are the authors of “Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard's Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power” and a movie screenplay based on the book.

Nobody would be less surprised than Dr. T.R.M. Howard by the news that Carolyn Bryant, the white woman at the center of the racially charged Emmett Till murder case,lied that the victim had sexually harassed her.

Till was a 14-year-old African-American who in 1955 was lynched, mutilated and dumped in the Tallahatchie River by Bryant's husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, after Till allegedly whistled at Carolyn Byrant.

At the time of the incident, Howard was arguably the South’s most important civil rights leader. Without him we probably would have never heard of Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer. Nor would Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. have drawn inspiration from his example and encouragement. Howard’s role in the Till murder case was equally pivotal.

In the mid-1950s, Howard was perhaps the wealthiest black man in Mississippi. Born in poverty, he had become chief surgeon of a hospital in the all-black town of Mound Bayou, which gave affordable and quality medical care to thousands, all without a dime of governmental aid. He owned a plantation of 1,000 acres, a home construction firm, an insurance company, a restaurant with a beer garden and the first swimming pool for Mississippi’s blacks. He was chairman of the board of the National Negro Business League and later headed the National Medical Association (the black version of the American Medical Association). In many ways, he represented a modern application of Booker T. Washington’s view that political rights ultimately flow from economic power.

Even before a fisherman happened on Emmett’s mangled body, Howard worked tirelessly to publicize the case. He gave over his well-armed home to be a “command center” for black journalists and witnesses, includingTill's mother, Mamie Till-Mobley. He doggedly pushed the theory that more than two people had taken part in the murder. During the trial, he coordinated an interracial manhunt to find witnesses, including Willie Reed, who testified he had seen Milman and Bryant beating Till. ...

Read entire article at The Clarion-Ledger

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