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Covington, Benjamin Jesse (1869–1961)

John S. Gray III Biography Entry

Benjamin Covington, a Black physician in Houston, was born in 1869 near Marlin, Texas, the son of Ben and Georgiana Covington, former slaves. As a young man he worked on a farm and attended school near Marlin. Around 1885 he entered Hearne Baptist Academy, where he supported himself as janitor and bell ringer. After graduating in 1892 he taught school but encountered hostility from some members of the White community who thought his salary was too high for an African American. Following a stint as a bookkeeper he entered Meharry Medical College in 1895. While still a student at Meharry he spent several months practicing medicine in Wharton, Texas, on a temporary permit. Covington graduated from Meharry in 1900. After another brief stay in Wharton he moved to Yoakum, where other doctors received him more favorably.

In 1903 Covington moved to Houston with his wife, Jennie Belle Murphy Covington, whom he had married in 1902. Covington practiced general medicine in Houston for fifty-eight years. He is best known as one of the five physicians who helped establish Houston Negro Hospital (now Riverside General Hospital) in 1925. His formula for the treatment of influenza, which he considered a form of yellow fever, was very successful and was used by United States medical officers. He was active in the push for improved public facilities and public health conditions. He helped reorganize the Lone Star State Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association, a professional association of black physicians, and served as secretary-treasurer for ten years and as president in 1920. Over the course of his career Covington took fifty-one post-graduate "refresher and modernization" courses at Prairie View, Tuskegee, Flint-Goodridge (New Orleans), and the Mayo Clinic.

Covington belonged to the Omega fraternity, Young Men's Christian Association, Masonic lodge, and Business and Professional Men's Club. He was also a member of Antioch Baptist Church, where he accompanied the choir on his violin. He also taught himself to play the piano, mandolin, and cornet.

During World War II Covington received citations from presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman commending him for his services to the Selective Service System. The Masonic lodge established a medical college scholarship in his honor. Covington died on July 21, 1961, and was buried in Paradise Cemetery (North). He was survived by his wife and daughter, Ernestine Jessie Covington Dent. In 1994 a Texas historical marker was placed at the site of the Covington home at 2219 Dowling Street.

Howard H. Bell, "Benjamin Jesse Covington, M.D., 1869–1961," Journal of the National Medical Association 55 (September 1963). Benjamin Covington Collection, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library. Albert Walter and Jessie Covington Dent Papers, Amistad Research Center, Tulane University. Martin Kaufman et al., eds., Dictionary of American Medical Biography (2 vols., Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1984). Fred Nahas, ed., Houston: City of Destiny (New York: Macmillan, 1980).

Categories:

  • Health and Medicine
  • Physicians and Surgeons
  • General Practitioners
  • Peoples
  • African Americans

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II

Places:

  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

John S. Gray III, “Covington, Benjamin Jesse,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 27, 2020, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/covington-benjamin-jesse.

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