Academic journal article The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics

T.R.M. Howard: Doctor, Entrepreneur, Civil Rights Pioneer

Academic journal article The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics

T.R.M. Howard: Doctor, Entrepreneur, Civil Rights Pioneer

Article excerpt



A frequently debated topic among African-Americans in the 20th century was the relative merits of the improvement strategies proposed by Booker T. Washington (c. 1856-1915) and W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963). Washington, a former slave and later head of the Tuskegee Institute, urged a non-confrontational program of self-discipline and economic improvement within the black community during the era of Jim Crow. DuBois, a professor at Atlanta University and one of the founders of the NAACP, favored economic improvement, to be sure, but also alleged the need for political activism against policies of racial segregation and de facto inequality. Many, if not most, prominent African-Americans came down clearly in favor of the strategy of one intellectual or the other. By contrast, T.R.M. Howard (1908-1976), the subject of David and Linda Beito's biography, embodied both approaches at different times during his remarkable career.

David Beito, a professor of history at the University of Alabama, has published several books on classical liberal and libertarian themes since the 1980s, including From Mutual Aid to Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967 (2000), which describes the robust network of mutual aid in the United States a century ago and its gradual crowding out by the state. His wife, Linda Royster Beito, is a professor of social sciences at Stillman College Together the Beitos have co-authored many articles and essays with a classical liberal flavor since the late 1990s. They originally published their biography of Howard in 2009 with the University of Illinois Press under the title Black Maverick. This new edition, published by the Independent Institute, includes an afterword by the authors as well as a foreword by Jerry Mitchell, the journalist whose investigative reporting in the 1980s and 1990s led to murder convictions in several "cold cases" from the Civil Rights Era in Mississippi. The subtitle of the 2018 edition stresses elements of Howard's life, especially his entrepreneurship, that will appeal to classical liberals and libertarians.

By any measure, T.R.M. Howard's life and career were dramatic, with many twists and turns along the way Born into poverty in the "Black Patch" area of southwestern Kentucky and northwestern Tennessee, Howard in his youth converted to Seventh-Day Adventism and embraced its rigorous ethic of self-discipline and clean living He found white patrons in the church who sponsored his education and eventual training to become a physician Although Howard eventually drifted away from the SDA church, its influence on his life and early career was crucial. His move to southern California in the early 1930s to attend its College of Medical Evangelists was what brought him into contact with socialite Helen Boyd, whom he eventually married. Boyd's family in turn made introductions that led to Howard's writing regularly for the California Eagle, Los Angeles's largest black newspaper, helping to establish his reputation as a civil rights leader

Upon completing his medical training, Howard spent several years at Riverside Sanitarium, an SDA hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, and also maintained a private practice while continuing to speak to churches and civic groups about civil rights. In 1941, he accepted an invitation to become chief surgeon at a new hospital in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, an all-black town in the state's Delta region. It was in Mound Bayou that Howard became a wealthy man through both his medical practice and entrepreneurial activities in banking, insurance, and agriculture. In fact, the Beitos claim that Howard became one of the most prosperous black farmers in Mississippi, with over 1,000 acres to his name and dozens of tenant farmers who resided on his land. In Mound Bayou, Howard also built a recreational center, which included a restaurant managed by his wife. …

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