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Wed, 03.04.1908

Theodore Howard, Surgeon, and Activist born

Theodore Howard

*Theodore Howard was born on this date in 1908. He was a Black surgeon, businessman, and activist.

Born in Murray, Kentucky, Theodore Roosevelt Mason Howard was the son of Arthur Howard, a tobacco twister, and Mary Chandler, a cook for Will Mason, a prominent local white doctor. Mason took note of the boy’s work habits, talent, ambition, and charm. He put him to work in his hospital and eventually paid for much of his medical education. Howard later showed his gratitude by adding Mason as one of his middle names.  Howard attended three Adventist colleges; the historically Black Oakwood Junior College in Huntsville, Alabama, the then nearly all-white Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the College of Medical Evangelists (now Loma Linda University) in Loma Linda, California. While at Union College, he won the Anti-Saloon League of America’s national contest for best orator in 1930.

During his years in medical school, Howard participated in civil rights and political causes, including writing a regular column for the California Eagle. He was also the California Economic, Commercial, and Political League president who championed Black business ownership and the study of Black history and opposed local efforts to introduce segregation.  In 1935, he married Black socialite Helen Nela Boyd. After a residency at Homer G. Phillips Hospital (in St. Louis, Missouri), Howard became the medical director of the Riverside Sanitarium, the main Adventist healthcare institution to serve Blacks.

In 1942, Howard became the first chief surgeon at the hospital of the International Order of Twelve Knights and Daughters of Tabor in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. While there, he founded an insurance company, restaurant, hospital, home construction firm, and a large farm. He also built a zoo, a park, and the first swimming pool for Blacks in Mississippi. In 1951, Howard founded the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, which mounted a successful boycott of service stations that denied restrooms to Blacks.

Howard moved into the national spotlight after the murder of Emmitt Till, when he became heavily involved in the search for evidence and made his home the command center for witnesses and journalists.  In late 1955, Howard was forced to move to Chicago due to death threats and economic pressure. There he founded the Howard Medical Center and served for one year as president of the National Medical Association.

In 1971, Operation Push was founded in Howard’s home, and he chaired the organization’s finance committee. In 1972, Howard founded Friendship Medical Center, the largest privately owned Black clinic in Chicago. Howard’s biography, “Black Maverick: T. R. M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power,” was published in 2009.  Theodore Howard died on May 1, 1976.

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