By STEVEN NALLEY
In the last few years of Dr. Douglas Conner’s life, Everlyn Johnson was in charge of a children’s Christmas program at Second Baptist Missionary Church.
Johnson said the program took four members’ stories of special Christmases past and had children re-enact them in play format. Conner’s Christmas story, set during Conner’s childhood in Birmingham, was one of the four stories re-enacted, Johnson said.
“They lost their home to fire, and it turned out to be one of the best Christmases ever, because the whole community helped out,” Johnson said.
Johnson is now chairing a tribute in Conner’s memory, in honor of everything he did for the Starkville community. “Dr. Douglas Conner: A Drum Major for Progress” will be held at Second Baptist Missionary Church on Saturday at 5:30-7 p.m.
The tribute will feature a panel discussion of Conner’s life and work moderated by William “Brother” Rogers and featuring former associates and relatives of Conner. The keynote speaker is John Marszalek, co-author with Conner of his biography, “A Black Physician’s Story: Giving Hope to Mississippi.” The church will take up a collection to purchase and place copies of Marszalek’s book in every city and school library in Oktibbeha County. Copies of the book will also be available for sale.
Marszalek said Conner wasn’t the first black physician in Starkville, but he was the only one for a number of years after he moved his practice from Hattiesburg to Starkville in 1951.
“He stayed here from ’51 until he died in ’98, and he never went any place else and practiced,” Marszalek said. “The next black physician didn’t come until sometime in the ’90s.”
Marszalek said Conner delivered an estimated three to four thousand babies in Starkville and saved several black people’s lives with his health services.
“He provided health care for those who normally wouldn’t have had it,” Marszalek said. “The guy worked from 7 a.m. till 11 p.m. at night six days a week when he started his practice and for a number of years after that.
Johnson said one of the things she respected most about Conner was the way he provided health care to members of the black community who could not afford it years before Medicaid.
“Sometimes people would take a pie or vegetables from the garden; when they couldn’t afford to pay, they brought whatever they could,” Johnson said. “He made them feel like that was payment, so that would really help their esteem.”
Several facets of the civil rights movement in Starkville also bear Conner’s mark, Marszalek said. Richard Holmes, Mississippi State University’s first black student, was Conner’s foster son, Marszalek said, and it was Medgar Evers who asked him to get involved in the civil rights movement.
“It took him some time because he was so involved with his practice, but once he did, he made the difference in Starkville being what it is today,” Marszalek said. “He had an impact on black voting rights, in that happening in Starkville, he had an impact on the integration of the public schools and black economic life. He was the leader of the black community, and he was the direct contact between the black community and the white community.”