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Medgar Evers’s Civil Rights Mentor: T.R.M. Howard

When an assassin struck down Medgar Evers on June 12, 1963, the national outrage spurred on a civil rights movement that was already getting more attention. A month before Medgar’s demise Bull Connor’s police had turned fire hoses with full force on men, women, and children in Birmingham, Alabama. Just over two months after Medgar’s death a record crowd turned out for Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” Within two years the momentum led to both the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. These events are well known, but few are aware of the instrumental role played by Medgar’s former employer and mentor, T.R.M. Howard, in making these events possible.

Born in poverty in 1908, Howard was already a black folk hero in Mississippi by the time Medgar met him. Howard had come to the all-black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, in 1942 to be chief surgeon of the Taborian Hospital that provided affordable health care, including major surgery, to the poor without any governmental aid. By the end of the decade he had a plantation of 1,000 acres, a home-construction firm, a restaurant, and a small zoo, and had built the first swimming pool for blacks in the state.

When Medgar Evers graduated from Alcorn College in 1952, like many young blacks of talent and ambition, he sought employment with Dr. Howard, who hired him as a salesman for the Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company. Medgar visited plantations in his insurance territory near Clarksdale to sell policies and collect premiums. With Dr. Howard’s full backing, he promoted civil rights on these visits. Howard also employed Medgar’s wife, Myrlie, as his typist and eventually delivered her first two children.

Linda Royster Beito is Professor and Dean of Arts and Science at Stillman College, and co-author of the book, T. R. M. Howard: Doctor, Entrepreneur, Civil Rights Pioneer.

David T. Beito is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of History at the University of Alabama, and co-author of the book, T. R. M. Howard: Doctor, Entrepreneur, Civil Rights Pioneer.

New from David T. Beito!
T.R.M. HOWARD: Doctor, Entrepreneur, Civil Rights Pioneer
T. R. M. Howard: Doctor, Entrepreneur, Civil Rights Pioneer tells the remarkable story of one of the early leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. A renaissance man, T. R. M. Howard (1908-1976) was a respected surgeon, important black community leader, and successful businessman. Howard's story reveals the importance of the black middle class, their endurance and entrepreneurship in the midst of Jim Crow, and their critical role in the early Civil Rights Movement.