MARCH 4, 1908
Dr. T.R.M. Howard was born in Murray, Kentucky. His mother worked as a cook for Dr. Will Mason, a White physician so impressed with the young Howard that he helped pay for much of Howard’s medical education.
After getting involved in civil rights issues, he moved to the all-Black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, where he became the first chief surgeon at the hospital. In 1951, he founded the Regional Council of Negro Leadership and mentored young civil rights activists Medgar Evers and Aaron Henry. The council carried out a successful boycott of service stations that refused to let Black patrons use the restrooms, blanketing the area with bumper stickers that read, “Don’t Buy Gas Where You Can’t Use the Restroom.” As many as 10,000 attended their annual rallies, where Thurgood Marshall and other national figures spoke.
Howard also fought the credit squeeze by the white Citizens’ Council on those who dared to get involved in the civil rights movement. In 1955, he drew national attention when he became involved in investigating the Emmett Till murder. His compound became a safe place, and he escorted witnesses to the trial, including Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, through a heavily armed caravan. After the all-white jury acquitted Till’s killers, Howard spoke across the nation, including an overflow crowd on Nov. 27, 1955, at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa Parks heard the speech and four days later refused to give up her seat. She was quoted later as saying she was thinking the whole time about Emmett Till.
Howard later spoke to 20,000 at Madison Square Garden alongside Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Before the year ended, the death threats and economic pressure became too much, and Howard moved with his family to Chicago.
In 1956, the Chicago Defender put him on the top spot on its national honor roll, and he served as president of the National Medical Association. In 1971, Jesse Jackson formed Operation PUSH in Howard’s home, and a year later, Howard founded the Friendship Medical Center, the largest privately owned Black clinic in Chicago. He died in 1976, and Jackson presided at his funeral. Historians David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito have written the definitive book on his life, T.R.M. Howard: Doctor, Entrepreneur, Civil Rights Pioneer. Both the Till movie and ABC’s Women of the Movement featured Howard in the series.