Dr. Johnnie Lee “J.L.” Garrett, the oldest civil rights and community leader in Hammond, died on August 30, 2020.
The veteran civil right leader was born in Newton County Texas on November 24, 1925. He earned an early education in the public schools of Newton County Texas and Liberty High school. In his senior year of high school, he was the valedictorian of his class and on track to give the valedictorian address. However, when his appendix ruptured, he was hospitalized and expected to die because Blacks were not given priority in surgical procedures. He was headed for death until his mother’s employer, a white lumber mill owner, told the hospital staff to save him with an operation. He gave this man credit for saving his life at the age of 16.
After graduating from Prairie View A&M University Garrett enlisted in the United States military. He served overseas during WWII and rose to the rank of captain. After returning home, he enrolled in the Tuskegee Institute School of Veterinary Medicine. He returned home to Texas and began practicing veterinary medicine. There he met the late Alma Jean McDonald. They married in 1955 and had three children, Sherree, Donald, and Theron. Garrett was encouraged to move to Hammond by his Tuskegee University roommate Dr. Percy Walker, a veterinarian in Amite, told Garrett there was a great need for veterinarians. In 1960, Garrett moved his family to Hammond from Milwaukee Wisconsin where he was a meat inspector.
He opened Garrett Veterinarian Clinic, becoming the first Black veterinarian in the city of Hammond. He also worked as a meat inspector for the state of Louisiana.
Garrett was one of the most prominent and influential community leaders. For six decades, he served on local boards geared toward the betterment of the Tangipahoa parish. He participated in activism, working to make the community a more equitable place. In 2012, his service earned him the Wilbert L. Dangerfield Award of Excellence from the Hammond City Council.
He worked to establish the First Annual Interracial Church Service and was a founding member of the Second Saturday Breakfast Committee, chairman of the Charter Committee to develop the laws of Tangipahoa Parish, and the originator of the very successful Macedonia Baptist Church Scholarship Banquet.
He actively assisted many students with obtaining employment.
He was the first Black faculty member at Southeastern Louisiana University and an unofficial advisor to five university’s presidents. He was a member of Macedonia Missionary Baptist and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.ℜ
By Eddie Ponds
The Drum Founding Publisher