By Judd Hambrick Special to the Daily Journal
Yazoo City, Miss., Sept. 9, 1924 – Thomas J. Huddleston, 48, a Yazoo City Afro-American entrepreneur contractor, and real estate developer, and Dr. Lloyd T. Miller, 50, a black medical doctor, proposed a revolutionary plan yesterday to build the first black-owned hospital in Mississippi, right here in Yazoo City. It will be called the Afro-American Hospital.
Huddleston proposes to accomplish this historic goal through a black fraternal society he co-founded with Dr. Miller, called the Afro-American Sons and Daughters, or AASD. Membership has increased in AASD in recent months, and they hope eventually to reach 35,000 to 40,000 members. Their idea for raising money to build the hospital is to have every member of AASD contribute at least “a dollar a brick” for all bricks used in construction.
Both men were spurred on to use a fraternal organization to build the hospital by a friend of theirs, J.L. Webb, the leader of the black fraternal group known as the Woodmen of Union. Like Huddleston, Webb is also a contractor. Webb left Yazoo City to live in Hot Springs, Ark., in 1919. Just last year, 1923, Webb completed construction of the first all-black hospital in Arkansas, using Woodmen of Union membership money.
Huddleston, Dr. Miller, and Webb are strong proponents of educator Booker T. Washington’s black self-help philosophy. Fraternal groups play a vital role in that philosophy.
Since blacks exist is a rather hostile, discriminatory environment, using fraternal organizations to strengthen themselves in life has been a tradition in this country since long before the American Revolution. As a result of blacks being denied membership in white fraternal groups, like the Masons, the Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias and many others, blacks have simply formed their own organizations. These black fraternal organizations are noted for networking with other lodges, building social relationships between cities, making financial investments on behalf of members, providing burial insurance, creating newspapers, giving members weekly stipends for lost work days, and even providing some doctor-supported health care. For at least 20 years, many blacks have wanted to build a full-fledged hospital exclusively for black citizens, since whites have a total monopoly on the existing hospital system in Mississippi.
Many blacks complain that the majority of the white hospitals won’t admit blacks at all, or if blacks are admitted, they are given vastly inferior medical treatment.
Huddleston and Dr. Miller hope to change this medical state of affairs by building a new all-black citizens hospital, not only for Yazoo City, but also for blacks throughout the entire Delta.
After this announcement was made to construct the Afro-American Hospital, Huddleston and Miller worked for four years to raise the money and finally to build their sorely needed medical dream. The hospital opened its doors to patients in 1928.
The Afro-American Hospital grew and assisted the black, largely indigent, population with health care needs for Yazoo City and some 60 miles around, for a quarter of a century. Then, the hospital began to decline. Dr. Miller died in 1951. Huddleston continued on using other doctors at the hospital until he died in 1959.
The state, which for decades had taken a hands-off approach to black hospitals, began to impose much stricter health and safety regulations in the 1950s. These regulations raised costs; it forced the Afro-American Hospital to increase its prices. Jim Crow laws became weaker, so medical care began to open for blacks to use other, previously all-white, hospitals. And, finally, the federal government intervened in health care for the poor with Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s. The Afro-American Hospital ceased to exist in 1966.
But today, the marvels and healing powers of modern medical hospitals are open to serve all Mississippians, regardless of race. Plus, the equally modern and more enlightened race relations in the state make the need for racially segregated hospitals unnecessary. So, now, the first Afro-American Hospital in Yazoo City, Miss., is simply an uncomfortable but necessary part of all our Southern Memories.