Reprinted from the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Houston,
a project in cooperation with the Houston History Alliance. For more information,
Benjamin Jesse Covington, an African American physician in Houston, was born in 1869 near Marlin, Texas, the son of Ben and Georgiana Covington, former slaves. As a young man Benjamin 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 a Negro. Following a stint as a bookkeeper he entered Meharry Medical College, a Black medical school in Nashville, in 1895. Meharry was founded on a spirit of kindness and a desire improve the lives of African Americans, a theme that would remain central to Covington’s life.
While still in medical school, Covington spent several months practicing medicine in Wharton, Texas, on a temporary permit. After graduating from Meharry in 1900, 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 the year before. Dr. Covington practiced general medicine in Houston for 58 years and 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 and helped reorganize the Lone Star State Medical, Dental and Pharmaceutical Association, a professional association of black physicians. Over the course of his career Covington took 51 post-graduate “refresher and modernization” courses at Prairie View, Tuskegee, Flint- Goodridge (New Orleans) and the Mayo Clinic.
Covington’s wife Jennie was a trailblazer in her own right, cofounding the Houston Commission on Interracial Cooperation and assisting at the Jefferson Davis Hospital and the Houston Negro Hospital. The Covingtons were members of Antioch Baptist Church, where Benjamin accompanied the choir on his violin. He also taught himself to play the piano, mandolin and cornet.
During World War II Benjamin 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). Jennie passed away five years later. In 1990 their daughter and grandchildren dedicated electronic chimes at Antioch Baptist Church in their honor. In 1994 a Texas historical marker was placed at the site of the Covington home at 2219 Dowling Street (now Emancipation Avenue).