Gilbert R. Mason was born on Oct. 7, 1928 to Mr. Willie Atwood Mason and Mrs. Alean Jackson Mason. He was delivered by a black midwife. As a young child, Mason heard a lot of stories told by his father and great grandfather, mostly about their experiences when they were younger. They also talked about the many struggles they endured while growing up in the tumultuous South and important people they came in contact with.
Mason practiced medicine in Biloxi for many years. For 43 years he served as the Vice President of the Mississippi Conference of the NAACP. He was closely associated with Medgar Evers and Aaron Henry, even serving as a pallbearer at Evers’ funeral. Mason organized the first nonviolent civil disobedience campaign in the state with wade-ins beginning in 1959 to gain equal access to the Gulf Coast beaches and voter registration drives in 1960 in Biloxi.
In August of 1964, Biloxi schools became the first in Mississippi to admit black children to formerly all-white classrooms. Mason joined Medgar Evers and Mrs. Winston Hudson in the first lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s system of enforced racial segregation and inequality in public schools. Mason later became a member of the first prestigious black fraternity, founded in 1906 at Cornell University, Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc. A year or so later he became a member and held position as President and Vice President of two other fraternities such as Beta Kappa Chi, a scientific fraternity, and Alpha Kappa Mu, an academic honor society also known as Phi Beta Kappa.
In the spring of 1949, Mason graduated with honors from Tennessee State with a double major in chemistry and biology with a minor in math. Later that summer he moved to Washington, D.C. to be closer to Natalie Lorraine Hamlar, his fiance whom he met at Tennessee State during his freshman year. It was always Mason’s dream to attend Howard University’s pre-med program. In 1950 Mason became one of the first applicants admitted into Howard University’s Medical program under the leadership of Dr. K. Albert Hardin. On July 29, 1950, Gilbert and Natalie were married. Their son Gilbert, Jr. was born within the next year.
In the spring of 1954, Mason graduate from Howard Medical School with honors, and received the top award in neurology for a paper dealing with nomenclature in psychiatry. A year later, Mason moved to St. Louis for an internship at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, while Natalie and their son stayed in Mississippi. Following the completion of his internship, Mason and his family relocated to Biloxi in the summer of 1955.
“Dr. Mason was my longtime friend and an inspiration to me,”said Governor William F. Winter. “His desire to improve his home state was boundless and he worked tirelessly to see a better day come.”