Jerry Summers: A Benevolent Physician And Segregationist

  • Wednesday, October 30, 2019
  • Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

The above description of the late Dr. John P. Hoover may sound contradictory but also appears to be accurate if one knows much about the life and career of the racist physician who was head of the White Citizens Council chapter in Chattanooga in the 1950’s-1960’s.

            As stated, when it first opened Brainerd High School had the nickname and symbol of “Rebels” and the students regularly waved the Confederate flag at athletic events.  Prior to the integration of the schools in the late 1960’s when tension began to rise between white and black students Dr. Hoover with a caravan of 13 cars bearing the American and Confederate flags entered the campus and gathered in a parking lot across North Moore Road. 

            After driving through the campus the vehicles were stopped by Principal Ray Coleman and asked to leave and not return because of fear of causing a disturbance in violation of a state law relative to campus disorder control.  When Hoover refused the request to leave by the Chattanooga Police Department, Detective James (Happy) Mallett placed him under arrest for disorderly conduct and trespassing.  He was transported to the City Jail where he was immediately released by Fire and Police Commissioner James B. (Bookie) Turner, City Judge Riley Graham, and other city officials, and the charges were dismissed. 

            Hoover regularly gave speeches against integration of the races in a losing effort to stop or delay the implementation of the landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education outlawing segregation of the races.

            When Central High School on Dodds Avenue was to be closed and moved to a new location on Highway 58 in Harrison, Hoover and his political ally and patient, former Judge Raulston Schoolfield, unsuccessfully attempted to try and gather public financial support to renovate the old property and build a private segregated all-white school.  Hoover and Schoolfield and funeral home operator, Eugene Turner, hoped to prevent the sale of the Central property and the adjacent Ridgeland Baptist Church for $250,000 and $25,515 respectively.  Hoover on March 9, 1970, was told that his group entitled “Committee for a Private Segregated School” were denied the opportunity to bid on the property.

            Hoover was also friends and physician to the avowed racist J.B. Stoner who ran for public office in Georgia and spewed his racial hatred on television during several campaigns.  Stoner attended one of Chattanooga’s prestigious prep schools and was also an attorney.

            Dr. Hoover’s longtime receptionist, Mrs. B.M., tells another side of the controversial physician.  According to her, he had many black and Jewish patients.  The blacks would enter the back door of the clinic in Rossville and go to a separate room for treatment.  Dr. Hoover also owned a lot of real estate in East Chattanooga including the still standing building at 2523 Glass Street which served as a meeting place for the anti-integration groups.  He employed a mixed crew of blacks and whites to do repairs on his vast rental property.  Blacks also were tenants of rental property Hoover owned in Rossville.  The receptionist described him as being kind to minorities and that he never worried about whether either the black or white patients could pay for his services. 

            She further related that the crippled Stoner was a patient of Dr. Hoover’s and would be allowed to sleep in the clinic when he was in town to give a white supremacy talk.  On one occasion Hoover gave Stoner money to buy a pair of shoes to replace the ones that had holes in them.  Following one of Stoner’s criminal convictions, Hoover loaned him an automobile. 

            Hoover strongly favored the continued separation of the races but had the paternal attitude that the white race should help the blacks.  Despite this attitude the local White Citizens Council that employed economic tactics in an effort to delay integration held meetings at the clinic in the waiting room.

            The southeastern coordinator for the group would come to the office and give Dr. Hoover checks to fund activities in the Chattanooga-Northwest Georgia region.

             Dr. John P. Hoover was a complex and controversial individual of a time gone by in this area.  Loved by some, hated by others, and misunderstood by many.

* * *

Jerry Summers can be reached at jsummers@summersfirm.com

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