As Black History Month winds to a close, a wonderful event took place this week in Carthage, Texas. Carthage was the hometown of Mildred Fay Jefferson, MD who died in 2010. Dr. Jefferson was the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School. She became the first female surgical intern at the prestigious Boston City Hospital, the first female doctor at the former Boston University Medical Center, and the first female admitted into the Boston Surgical Society. She was also credited by President Ronald Reagan as the person who converted him to being pro-life.
Dr. Jefferson was one of the American pro-life movement’s architects and helped to found the National Right to Life Committee. She served as its president from 1975 to 1978. She later served on the board of American Life League and went on to found the Right to Life Crusade. Through that organization, she spoke on campuses and in public gatherings for years. For her achievements in medicine and dedication to genuine social justice, Dr. Jefferson was awarded 28 honorary degrees from colleges and universities.
When asked why she was so involved in the pro-life movement, Dr. Jefferson said: “I became a physician in order to help save lives. I am at once a physician, a citizen, and a woman, and I am not willing to stand aside and allow the concept of expendable human lives to turn this great land of ours into just another exclusive reservation where only the perfect, the privileged, and the planned have the right to live. The right-to-life cause is not the concern of only a special few, but it should be the cause of all those who care about fairness and justice, love and compassion and liberty with law.”
The effort to honor her in Carthage began just a few days after her death in 2010. According to a 2014 Panola Crossroads magazine article:
Local attorney Mike Parker read her obituary in the Longview News and wondered, “Who is this very distinguished lady who claims Carthage as her home?” He had never heard her name before and wondered why. “It seemed like she was pretty much universally admired and appreciated everywhere else,” recalls Parker, “but I’d been practicing law here over 30 years and very involved in the community, and I’d never heard her name mentioned. I thought how could that be?” He began asking questions and discovered there were quite a few people that had never heard her name. “I knew we needed to do something about that. We needed to show a little more pride in the fact that she was one of our people, and her home town needed to give her some recognition.”
Parker formed a committee, and, with city approval, erected a memorial in a city park. The group worked for years raising funds to make it all happen.
This week, in recognition of Dr. Jefferson's accomplishments and contributions to society, a group of residents gathered in Anderson Park in downtown Carthage to publicly honor the doctor from Carthage. They unveiled a new bust of Mildred Fay Jefferson, MD and a plaque listing some of her notable accomplishments.
She was truly an inspiration to all who knew her. Now future generations will be inspired as well, and maybe they will be stirred to follow in her footsteps and accomplish things once thought impossible.