In 1926 Perry M. Smith, a Mississippi schoolteacher, was elected chief grand mentor of the Mississippi Jurisdiction of the Knights and Daughters of Tabor, a black fraternal organization with members in a dozen states. When Smith took over the society, its membership was floundering. To revive the chapter, Smith decided to emulate the success of another Mississippi fraternal organization, the Afro-American Sons and Daughters, then in the process of building a hospital in Yazoo City to provide inexpensive health care for the society’s members. The thirty-two-bed Afro-American Sons and Daughters Hospital opened in 1928 at a cost of fifty thousand dollars, almost all of which was raised from quarterly taxes of fifty cents per member. Smith first proposed his hospital plan in 1929, but it was rejected by the organization’s membership. Undaunted, he continued to press for a society hospital, and in 1938 the membership finally consented to raising one hundred thousand dollars for a facility to be built in Mound Bayou. Funding for the hospital was raised primarily from an assessment on the society’s twenty-five thousand members, and on 1 February 1942 the one-story, forty-two-bed Taborian Hospital opened.
Taborian Hospital was a boon to black patients in the Mississippi Delta. Drs. W. L. Smith of Clarksville and Phillip M. George of Mound Bayou served as the facility’s codirectors, and Dr. Theodore R. M. Howard was hired as surgeon in chief. Within four years the facility expanded to seventy-six beds, and by 1946 the hospital annually conducted more than twelve hundred operations in its two operating rooms. Members of the Knights and Daughters of Tabor who paid the annual Hospital Emergency Tax of two dollars and the quarterly hospital fee of seventy-five cents were entitled to up to thirty-one days a year of free hospitalization in Taborian’s wards, including all their medical and surgical examinations and treatments. Nonmembers were also admitted to the hospital, but at higher costs.
Howard was dismissed from his post as surgeon in chief of the hospital in 1947, and the Board of Directors approached Matthew Walker, a professor of surgery at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, to fill the position. Walker declined the post but proposed a program that benefited both Taborian and Meharry for more than two decades. Walker provided Taborian with surgical residents and interns from Meharry on a rotating basis. This plan alleviated Meharry’s problem of finding internships and residencies for its students and Taborian’s problem of maintaining a well-trained staff at a price that it could afford. The plan called for Meharry to send two residents to serve four- to six-month stints in Mound Bayou as the hospital’s chief surgeon and assistant. These residents were accompanied by Meharry seniors who served two-week shifts as interns. Walker also periodically made the two-hundred-mile trip from Nashville to check on his charges and to perform any especially risky operations.
Differing from any medical training program in the country, the Mound Bayou program was an enormous success between 1947 to 1974. The Meharry contingent hosted daily clinics seven days a week for the people of the Delta and performed a wide rage of minor operations. The residents and interns from Nashville were also responsible for the hospital’s obstetrical and gynecological services. In addition to receiving on-the-job training, the Meharry delegation trained locals to work in the hospital as medical technicians. The program was funded by a monthly fee, initially a dollar, from the society’s membership. In 1966 the hospital received a federal grant from the US Office of Economic Opportunity to continue the program. In 1967, with the increase of federal funding in hospital care, Taborian Hospital and the Friendship Clinic, a private hospital opened by Dr. Howard following his dismissal from Taborian, were merged into the Mound Bayou Community Hospital. In 1983 the facility closed.
- David T. Beito, Journal of Southern History (February 1999)
- Matthew Walker, Meharry Medical College Quarterly Digest (1966)
- Thomas J. Ward Jr., Black Physicians in the Jim Crow South (2003)