Dr. John Bowman (“J.B.”) Banks was the first Black physician to practice medicine in Natchez, Mississippi. He recruited Dr. Albert Woods Dumas, the second Black physician to practice in the city. Together with four other businessmen, they founded an African American bank in Natchez called Bluff City Savings Bank in 1906.
During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Banks’ house was the headquarters for the Natchez Branch of the NAACP. It was also the home of NAACP President George Metcalfe. The building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is home to the Dr. John Bowman Banks Museum. In 2022, the Mississippi Humanities Council and Visit Mississippi placed the house on the Mississippi Freedom Trail and the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. A ceremony for the unveiling of the Freedom Trail Marker was held in April 2023.
Banks was born on Feb. 14, 1862, in Louisiana. He spent his early years in Summit, Miss., a small town northwest of McComb in Pike County. Banks began his higher education in 1877 at Leland University of New Orleans, Louisiana. Banks’ time at the school was interrupted by an outbreak of yellow fever, which forced him to end his studies.
He and his wife, Sarah, had two children: a daughter, Alberta Beatrice Banks, and a son, Oliver M. Banks. In 1883, Banks left his home to attend Meharry Medical College, a private, historically Black school in Nashville, Tenn. Banks graduated from Meharry, and on April 9, 1885, the Mississippi State Board of Health issued him his medical license. A few years later, he opened his practice in Natchez.
Banks was a successful businessman, strong community leader, and active Zion Chapel A.M.E. Church member, where Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African American to serve in the U.S. Senate, had served as pastor. Banks also was a friend of Booker T. Washington. Around 1892, he built the house at 9 St. Catherine Street.
Dr. Banks’ daughter, Alberta, taught at the Union School in Natchez, founded in 1871 as the first public, co-educational school established for the African American community. His son, Oliver, studied medicine and was also a doctor. The Banks’ enjoyed the respect of the Black and White communities. John Bowman Banks was an active community member, joining in the efforts to support refugees fleeing flooding in Davis Island in 1897, and in 1898, when Union School needed an extra teacher to help teach 120 students, he sought and received support from Natchez City officials to have a new teacher hired.
Banks died in his home on December 30, 1911. He was 49 years old. His funeral was at Zion Chapel, and his body was interred at Natchez City Cemetery in Adams County.