I wrote this story for the Hannibal Courier-Post's Martin Luther King Jr., edition, Saturday, Jan. 17, 2014. hannibal.net
For the Courier-Post
A promise lured Texas native O.C. Queen to Hannibal, Missouri, during the last half of the final decade of the 19th Century.
That promise consisted of economic opportunity during an era when men were judged first by their skin color, and by their accomplishments a far second.
O.C. Queen, a trained physician and surgeon upon his arrival in town during the mid 1890s, reached a high stature during the ensuing 35 years in Hannibal, including that of a respected caregiver for members of his race, a prominent leader in the Eighth and Center Street Baptist Church, a regional leader for the Republican party, and a role model for his own children and for those of his colleagues.
His long-time home at 1325 Lyon, near the junction with Market street, was within eyesight of Levering Hospital, built by Caucasian community leaders in 1902, yet he typically didn’t practice medicine within the confines of that stellar community asset. Instead, he treated patients of his own race at his own home, or - more convenient for his patients - at their homes.
When his life ended in November 1927, his last breath was taken in a pharmacy across the street from the hospital, rather than within the confines of the facility built to care for Hannibal’s citizens.
Osceola C. Queen was born June 10, 1864 or 1865, at Cold Springs, Polk County, Texas, son of Middleton Queen, a native of Mississippi, and Viney Queen, a Georgia native.
His death notice, published in the Hannibal Courier-Post on Nov. 4, 1927, reports that he was educated in the common schools at Huntsville, Texas, and throughout his early years, he placed a great importance on obtaining a college degree. He entered Bishop College, Marshall, Texas, in January 1883, and paid his way through college by teaching in various Texas classrooms during his school breaks. He enrolled in the medical department of Central Tennessee College, at Nashville, in the fall of 1888, and graduated as class valedictorian in 1891.
In February of that year, Dr. Queen presented the medical valedictory, “Phythisis Pulmonalis,” at the fifteenth anniversary celebration of Meharry Medical College, from which he earned his medical degree.
After a short stint practicing medicine in Fort Worth, Texas, he married Leah D. Queen, and the two moved to Missouri, perhaps lured by an advertisement of that era sent out across the United States by telegraph, inviting doctors of color to Hannibal:
“Wants a Colored Physician
Saturday, May 31, 1890
Hannibal Missouri is a city of at least 18,000 inhabitants. About one fourth of them are colored, many of these are intelligent and thoroughly progressive. There are three colored grocery stores now, and within the next two months there will probably be a dry goods store and also a boot and shoe store. There is a negro paper run by a force of eight men and women. One of the best real estate agents in the city is a colored man. A colored notary public. Splendid churches, and extraordinary good educational facilities, and many other advantages are enjoyed by the Afro-American element of the city. The Standard extends a special invitation to a good physician and lawyers to come and locate. Laboring men have work for most all the year, and many of them have employment the year round in the timber yards, machine shops, foundries, packing house and wholesale houses. Any good colored physician who may locate in Hannibal will do well. Hannibal wants a good colored physician.”
The 1897 Hannibal city directory lists 26 practicing physicians and surgeons in Hannibal, including Dr. Queen, who was the only one with a “(col)” designation denoting his race following his name.
Among his patients
Dr. Queen was listed as physician of record for Ann Ferguson when she died in 1905.
Ann Ferguson was born in Ralls County, Missouri, circa 1830. She married George Washington (Wash) Ferguson, a former slave, and during her lifetime gave birth to some dozen children, burying all but three plus her husband prior to the start of the 20th century.
Living with her 30-year-old daughter, Annie, in 1905, Mrs. Ferguson contracted pneumonia. Dr. Queen was summoned, but was unable to save his 75-year-old dying patient. She was laid to rest at Hannibal’s Old Baptist Cemetery.
Dr. Queen and his wife raised two children in Hannibal, Velma Odessa Queen, born in 1895, and Manzilla Queen, born in 1896.
Velma Queen was beloved educator at Douglass School, well remembered by former students who reside in Hannibal. Miss Queen died Thursday, July 15, 1971, at age 75, in Jackson County, Kansas City, and was brought back to Hannibal to be buried alongside her parents in Robinson Cemetery.
Manzilla Queen served during World War I, later marrying Daisy M. Queen. He was a practicing dentist in Kansas City. Daisy Queen died in 1967, and is buried in Lincoln Cemetery, Jackson County. Her husband died October 1983 in Kansas City.
Dr. O.C. Queen’s death notice, published the morning after his death in the Courier-Post, described the final moments of the caregiver’s life:
“Turning south onto Dowling Street, (which was adjacent and just to the west of Levering Hospital) Dr. Queen’s car bumped into another. The men in the second car, noticing that Dr. Queen had slumped onto the wheel, went to his assistance. He was removed to Hoffmann’s Pharmacy, 1800 Market, where he died within a few minutes.”
That moment in time marked the end of a life dedicated to caring for the needs of others.
Family at rest
The prominent Queen family monument stands just beyond the reach of the far stretched historic catalpa tree branches in Robinson cemetery.
Cutline: The prominent Queen family monument in Hannibal’s Robinson Cemetery denotes the stature the family possessed within the community. Dr. Queen served as family physician for members of the black race for 35 years. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY/FOR THE COURIER-POST