Taborian Hospital November 2007
Thanksgiving is a time to come together with family and friends – celebrating our community and counting our blessings. During this time of thanks giving StoryCorps Griot would like to give thanks to Taborian Hospital, an institution that played a pivotal role in the lives of thousands of African-Americans in the Mississippi Delta, and throughout the state, from its opening in 1942 until its closing in the mid 1960s. Purportedly, the hospital cared for over 135,000 area residents. Many StoryCorps Griot participants were born or received necessary care from the hospital’s services. This was during a time when African-Americans were refused access to medical facilities across the country.
Taborian Hospital was built by the International Order of Twelve Knights and Daughters of Tabor. It was the first hospital for African-Americans in the Delta, and only the second in the entire state of Mississippi. The facilities included two major operating rooms, an x-ray room, a sterilizer, incubators, an electrocardiograph, a blood bank, and a laboratory. On our trip to Mound Bayou a participant told us that Tufts University operated an outpatient midwifery program from the hospital, which paid doctors to travel throughout Mississippi. Since there were virtually no medical services available to African-Americans, people relied on a few traveling doctors, who were often also preachers, to assist their needs. David Beito, in his book From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State, describes the facilities as cutting edge for its time. “When the Taborian Hospital opened in 1942, the final cost of construction had been over $100,000. . . The hospital usually had two or three doctors on the staff; all were black. In 1944 annual dues of $8.40 entitled an adult to thirty-one days of hospitalization, including major or minor surgery; the dues also covered a $200 burial policy. The fee for a child was $1.20 per year for the same services and a $50 burial policy.”
The hospital’s first chief surgeon was T.R.M. Howard. Prior to coming to Mound Bayou, Howard had been the medical director of Riverside Sanitarium in Nashville, TN. Upon his arrival, in addition to being a surgeon, he started a working farm, a restaurant, a construction firm and an insurance company. In 1951 he founded The Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL). The organization promoted a program of civil rights, self-help, and business ownership. Reportedly, between 1951 and 1953 the RCNL’s annual meetings attracted crowds of over ten thousand people, with some of Mississippi’s most prominent African-American educators, business leaders and church leaders in attendance.
Upon graduating from Alcorn State University with a degree in business administration, a young Medgar Evers moved to Mound Bayou to work for Howard, selling insurance. Under the tutelage of Howard, Evers eventually became program director of the RCNL. As program director he helped to organize a campaign to boycott gas stations that did not allow African-Americans to use their restrooms, toting the slogan “Don’t Buy Gas Where You Can’t Use the Rest Room.” By 1953 the organization was directly challenging the “separate but equal” policies of the Jim Crow south and demanding integration of schools.
Like its host city the hospital is remarkable. It is another shining example of the possibilities to be reaped through ownership and economic self-empowerment. This is a significant part of American history often overlooked. We give thanks to the Knights and Daughters of Tabor for their foresight and determination. We also give thanks to the power of the oral tradition, personified by the Griot. It is this tradition that is keeping our history alive. I would never have known about this important part of our history if it wasn’t for StoryCorps Griot participants.
We Give Thanks and Praise