Douglas L. Connor was a Starkville physician and civil rights organizer. The son of Jerry Conner, a lumber yard worker, and Mary Elnora Washington Conner, a custodian for the telephone company, Conner was born in Hattiesburg on 25 October 1920. When he was twelve years old, his parents divorced, apparently because of his father’s alcoholism.
Connor suffered from the pervasive racial segregation of the time but believed that he was kept from despair because of his mother’s insistence that he was not inferior; the black history instruction he received in school; the role modeling of Dr. Charles Smith, a black Hattiesburg physician; and his education and reading. When he graduated from Eureka High School and earned a fifty-dollar scholarship to Alcorn A&M College, he dreamed of becoming a doctor.
His four years at Alcorn were another positive experience, as was the summer of his junior year, when he worked in the Connecticut tobacco fields with Polish laborers, who, he was amazed to discover, displayed no prejudice against him. After graduating from Alcorn in 1943, he moved to Detroit and worked in a General Motors automobile plant to earn money for medical school. A year later he was drafted and entered the segregated military of World War II. While attending an integrated course for medical corpsmen at Walter Reed Army Hospital, he learned that he could hold his own with white people. On furlough before his assignment to Okinawa in 1945, Conner married Juanita Macon, the niece and ward of Starkville black leaders Robert and Sadye Wier. In the Pacific, Conner served under a physician who encouraged his dream of becoming a medical doctor and had the unusual experience of receiving more cordial treatment from the island’s people of color than did the white soldiers.
After his discharge from the army, the Conners moved to Chicago, where he worked for a summer in a steel mill. In the fall of 1946 he entered Howard University Medical School in Washington, D.C., and after his graduation he served an internship at the Homer G. Phillips Hospital, St. Louis’s major black health facility.
In 1951, with the encouragement of the Wiers, he began practicing medicine in Starkville. He served thousands of black patients and a handful of whites and became the acknowledged leader of the black community. He founded the Oktibbeha County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, served in the county and state Democratic Party, and was a prominent member of the Second Baptist Church. He led marches, endured arrest, initiated lawsuits, and in various other ways served as the driving force behind the integration of the Starkville schools, the initiation of voting rights for black people, and the hiring of black clerks in the city’s downtown stores and banks.
Douglas and Juanita Conner raised two daughters, Sadye Yvonne, who became a pediatrician, and Eileen Yvette, a registered nurse. The Conners also took in a young boy, Richard Holmes, who in 1965 became the first black student at Mississippi State University and later a physician. After Douglas and Juanita divorced in 1987, he married Rhonda Taylor. He died in Starkville on 13 November 1998. Soon after his death, city leaders renamed Washington Street, the route of his many civil rights marches and the location of his office, Dr. Douglas L. Conner Drive.
- Douglas L. Conner with John F. Marszalek, A Black Physician’s Story: Bringing Hope in Mississippi (1985)