- A Black Physician’s Story: Bringing Hope To Mississippi (1986) with John Marszalek
By Connie Conner (SHS)
Douglas Lavoisier Conner (born Douglas Lee) was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on October 25, 1920. He was born to Jerry and Mary Elnora Conner (deceased). Douglas was one of four children (listed by order of age ): William, Douglas, Corrine, and Jerry. Jerry was a sawmill worker, and Mary was a maid for a Caucasian family in Hattiesburg.
Douglas graduated salutatorian from Eureka High School in Hattiesburg on May 1939. He enrolled and received his bachelor’s degree from Alcorn State University (previously called Alcorn A&M) where he was a student from September 1939 until May 1943. He went to school on a $50 scholarship. He viewed it as being a world of its own. He felt that being surrounded mostly by blacks made others forget about segregation, racism, and prejudice, all of which were prevalent at the time. Alcorn was an inspiration for this young aspiring physician. For the first time he saw black men and women in “…positions of authority and respect” (Starkville Daily News 1986), and he knew there was a spark of hope after all. He later earned his medical degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. where he studied from September 1946 until June of 1950. Soon after he interned at Homer Phillips Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, from June of 1950 until June of 1951. Conner also served two years in the Army as a medical technician in Okinawa during World War II. This was the beginning of Conner’s leadership role.
He strived as best he knew how to become a physician. It took plenty of work, but finally he succeeded when he started his general practice of medicine in Starkville, Mississippi, in July of 1951. He worked diligently for over fifty years in Starkville. There were many times when patients could not afford to pay their doctor bills, and he would accept cornbread, pies, homemade jelly, etc. as payment. This would compensate for actual cash. He knew they could not afford to pay with money, so he accepted substitutions instead. This is a reflection of his personality.
Dr. Conner was also affiliated with the Staff of Felix Long and Oktibbeha County Hospital for thirty-eight years (from September 1951-1989). He was very active in his community and surrounding areas. He was involved with the following: National Medical Association, Oktibbeha County N.A.A.C.P, Oktibbeha County Chamber of Commerce, Oktibbeha County Democratic Party, Mississippi Democratic Party State Executive Committee, and he was a trustee at his local church (Second Baptist Church located in Starkville, Mississippi). Douglas encountered many learning experiences growing up and tried to apply his knowledge to his present day life. “I have learned to disagree with practices and policies without being disagreeable. I have learned to chip away in a steady manner at the vast walls of intolerance and bigotry– never to be content until all people, …. ‘are judged by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin’ “(vitae written by Conner on home computer in 1998). Conner led boycotts and marches to ensure integration throughout the community. Once Conner, along with over 200 other people, was arrested and taken to jail for marching without a permit. The march was for equality. He was jailed several times for boycotting and marching.
On a more political standpoint, he was involved in politics and was strongly pro-democratic. Conner ran for public office at a time in which it was very hard to be an African American person in office. He ran for alderman, state senator, and state representative and lost all three times. However, he felt like it made other blacks more aware. “My involvement in politics is another part of my human rights, beliefs, and my medical oath. Wherever I see hurt, I want to be able to heal it. Medicine is the great healer of physical ills. I see myself as a physician in both spheres” (vitae written by Conner on home computer in ’98). In order to accomplish goals, one must first set them. These are but a few of the many goals which Douglas Conner set for his life.
His autobiography, A Black Physician’s Story: Bringing Hope in Mississippi, was published in 1985 by the Mississippi University Press in Jackson.
It is authored by Douglas L. Conner, M.D. and long-time friend John Marszalek, a history professor at Mississippi State University. John Marszalek helped Conner complete his book, A Black Physician’s Story and was not only a personal friend, but he fought the political problems with Conner as well. This book is the story of Conner’s life from poverty in Hattiesburg to graduation from Alcorn State University. It also discusses his work experiences in the North, his participation in one of the first US Army integrated training courses during World War II, his training at Howard University Medical School and his internship in St. Louis. (MSU). Conner began his medical practice in 1950 in Starkville, Mississippi, devoting his life to improving life for countless people. The book also tells of the period during the late 1960s and early 1970s when Conner led the fight to integrate Starkville and insure all people the vote and the right to a good job. The book is the life story of this physician and civil rights leader.
Not only was Conner a business and community man, he was an outstanding family man. He has three lovely daughters. Divian LaTasha, Dorothy Lasier, and Elnora Constance “Connie”. Divian (now 20 years of age) is his wife’s daughter from her first marriage, but she was later legally adopted by him. They later bore their youngest daughters Dorothy (18 years old) and Connie (17 years old). From Douglas’ s first marriage, he and his wife Ethel had three children: Richard Earl Holmes, Sadye Yvonne, Eileen Yvette. Dr. Conner worked diligently up until his recent death on November 13, 1998. Connor recently said, “If you want to find a way to kill me quickly, do so by taking my [medical] practice from me” (spoken orally to his wife and was noted). Dr. Conner is my father. Growing up with a man with such integrity, faith, and strong morals, I have found it easier to interact with people in everyday life. He has instilled morals and beliefs in me that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I know that even though he did not get a chance to see me graduate that he will be there with me in spirit. That was his last personal wish in life. I will continue to strive and try and follow in his footstep as much as possible. His legacy will forever remain.
Douglas Conner’s life was not in vain. He helped bring justice and racial harmony to Oktibbeha County, and his only dream was for us as recipients of all nationalities is to carry it on. Dr. Douglas L. Conner was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in January of 1998. He wrote “I have found it much easier, in the long run, to confide my fears and hopes rather than trying to hide them” (SDN 1998). Conner said, “I will practice until He says ‘well done.’ With my practice, I have something to look forward to each day.” Now everything is over, and God has truly said, “Well done, my worthy and faithful servant.” Dr. Conner is gone from our sight, but his legacy will never disappear.
An Interview with Douglas L. Conner
by Connie Conner (SHS)
Do you have advice for students today?
“We live in an era when nothing in life is for free. In order to become successful, you must first get an education. Therefore, you must be aware of present circumstances. And to African American students, know that we have come a long way trying to beat the odds. One person can not change the world, but can change something. And if everyone changes something, it would eventually become a domino effect to climbing the ‘ladder of success’.”
This project is to go towards a web site my English class has been working on at Starkville High School. Would you mind allowing us to use a photo or so?
“Oh, sure. I see no reason why that wouldn’t be possible.”
What kind of student were you in high school?
“I never really said much. I didn’t have too many girlfriends either. But I did play the saxophone in the band. I was kind of a loner. I just kept to myself. Once I had a crush on my chemistry teacher and I used to bring her fruit to class. That’s as bold as I could get.”
Have you received any awards I haven’t mentioned?
“Well, there were some you missed, but you covered the basic. Don’t worry about it.”
- Amazon.com page includes synopsis of book and short biography
- Detailed biography of Douglas L. Conner (PDF)
- Conner, Douglas L. with Marszalek, John F.. “A Black Physician’s Story: Bringing Hope in Mississippi“. Online. Internet. Available http://www.erc.msstate.edu/MSU_authors/abps.html#A. 1985
- Conner, Rhonda and Douglas. “Conner Battling his Greatest Fear.” The Starkville Daily News. October 1998.
- Mather, Robin. “Physician’s Story is herald of hope”. The Starkville Daily News. April 20, 1986.
- Hood, Russell. “Douglas Conner, Providing inspiration by example”. The Starkville Daily News. March 22-28, 1986.