Smith Drug Co.

Smith Drug Company was established in 1925 by E. Hammond Smith at 606 Mobile Street in Hattiesburg Mississippi, which was the heart of the Mobile Street commercial district.  Smith Drug Co. was an important source for medicines and everyday products such as perfumes, tobacco, razor blades, hair pomade, shoe polish and other domestic items.  The drug store also sold gum, candy and operated a soda fountain that was immensely popular among Eureka High School students.

Smith Drug Co.

Smith Drug Company was established in 1925 by E. Hammond Smith at 606 Mobile Street in Hattiesburg Mississippi, which was the heart of the Mobile Street commercial district.  Smith Drug Co. was an important source for medicines and everyday products such as perfumes, tobacco, razor blades, hair pomade, shoe polish and other domestic items.  The drug store also sold gum, candy and operated a soda fountain that was immensely popular among Eureka High School students.

The Mobile Street Commercial District

Mobile Street was the center of African American commerce in Hattiesburg up until the 1960s. Some of the businesses (primarily black owned) included a confectionary, ice cream parlor, dental office, movie theater, auto mechanic’s shop, insurance company, jewelry repair shop, beer garden, filling stations, funeral parlors, doctor’s offices, barbershops, grocery stores, tailor shops, beauty shops, restaurants, banks and guesthouses, and even a hotel.

The building that originally housed Smith Drug Company was owned by Smith’s father. Smith made renovations to the building in its first year of operation, but delayed any major renovations until the early 1950s.  However, the original building served the business and the community well in the years leading up to World War II.

“(During WWII) I was working somewhere around fifteen people, Two shifts…We had to work long hours.”
E. Hammond Smith
“The store became a focal point of the community during the civil rights turmoil of the 1960s. It served as a meeting place for local leaders and was visited by many national civil rights activists including Dick Gregory.”
Louise Revere, Employee at Smith Drug Company
“…I paid better wages than most folks. I’d hire about two girls in the summer, and that was the only place in town they could use a cash register. (in white businesses)…you could be a floor sweeper or something like that, but not a clerk.”
E. Hammond Smith

The history of Smith Drug Co. and Mobile Street was not without challenges.

Soup lines during the Great Depression, the floods of the 1970s, and even a fire in a neighboring business were some of the obstacles to success.  Nonetheless, the store thrived.

1894 – 1985

EDWIN HAMMOND SMITH

E. Hammond Smith was born in Alabama to Turner and Mamie Smith.  He moved with his family at a young age to Hattiesburg where he attended the Little Red School House, which later became the site for Eureka School. 

As was common at that time, African Americans could not complete high school locally. Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College, now Alcorn State University, offered a residential high school where Smith completed his secondary education. He continued on at Alcorn and completed his undergraduate studies. From there he went to Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, graduating in 1924 as a licensed pharmacist.

Dr. Smith returned to Hattiesburg and opened Smith Drug Company in 1925.  In 1928, he married Lucille Trotter of Meridian, Mississippi.  The couple did not have children.   
During his years in business on Mobile Street, Mr. Smith witnessed many changes in the growth and development of the City of Hattiesburg.  Mr. Smith has been described as being a quiet, well-respected member of the community, and a leader in the fight to attain voting rights for black citizens.  “He was a man who faced obstacles and tried to overcome them,” said Alvin Eaton, former Vice President of WDAM-TV.  “He was one of the people who pioneered the black community here.”

Smith was an active participant in the voter registration drives of the 1960s, and was one of the first registered black voters in the city.  During that time, Smith was one of fifteen black men who filed suit against the Forrest County Registrar of Voters for blocking the ability of blacks to register to vote.  “He had pride in his community,” said Eaton.  “He sponsored league teams for blacks when there was no one else to sponsor them.  In fact he sponsored all types of groups – civic, church.  He was a major figure in the community.”

Smith owned and operated his drugstore for 55 years before retiring fully in 1980 and selling the company to his protégé and fellow pharmacist, Dr. James A. Cohen.

Smith was known as a community and business leader who supported education and was instrumental in lifting up Hattiesburg’s African-American community.

Community & Professional Involvement
  • Member, Hattiesburg Negro Business League
  • Member and Board of Trustees, St. Paul Methodist Church
  • Chairman, Business & Professional Committee of the Colored Red Cross
  • Founding Member, Forrest County NAACP
  • Member, Hattiesburg Association for Civic Improvement
  • Co-Founder, Black Pharmaceutical Association
“He was a quiet, soft-spoken leader in the black community.”
Percy Watson, Hattiesburg attorney and MS House of Representatives
“He was a man who faced obstacles and tried to overcome them,”
Alvin Eaton, Former Vice President for WDAM-TV

In 1980, James A. Cohen purchased Smith Drug Company from his mentor, Dr. Smith

After working side-by-side for more than 27 years.  Cohen renamed the business, Cohen Drug Company, which operated until 1996 when Cohen retired, and the business was closed.  

Upon its closure on December 31, 1996, Cohen Drug Company (formerly Smith Drug Co.) was one of the longest continually running black-owned businesses in Hattiesburg having served its community for more than 71 years. 

1920 – 2005

James A. Cohen

In 1920, James A. Cohen was born in Hattiesburg to the Reverend James and LueElla Cohen. He completed high school at DePriest, which later became Earl Travillion Attendance Center. During his schooling, he worked for Smith Drug Company as a delivery boy and store assistant. He completed two years of college at Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College before being drafted into the U.S. Air Force. After receiving an Honorable Discharge, he finished college at Wilberforce University in Ohio. In 1953, Cohen went on to receive his B.S. Degree in Pharmacy at the College of Pharmacy at Xavier University in Louisiana.

Following graduation, Cohen joined Hammond Smith at Smith Drug Co. as a registered pharmacist. He married his wife, Mercie B. King of Hattiesburg, in December of 1958. They had two children, Veda and Patton, as well as a foster son, Abdul Muhammad. “I was planning to go into agriculture when Mr. Smith came looking for an honest country boy,” said Cohen. “I worked for him while I was still in high school and every summer when I was going to Alcorn.” “He was definitely a mentor,” continued Cohen. “He told you the truth…he believed in working hard and based everything on sound business principles.”

Cohen worked for Smith Drug Co. as a registered pharmacist for 27 years before purchasing the business from Smith in 1980. He continued to own and operate his store for an additional 16 years before retiring. “The one thing I regret (about retiring) is closing the store,” Cohen said. I’d like to see a young pharmacist come in, but these days, they go to work for the hospitals or the super pharmacies because of the benefits.” He retired in 1997 after serving a total of 44 years as a professional pharmacist.  Cohen states he would still “do it all over again,” the same way.  He notes that his favorite part of his job was meeting the people he served. 

Community and Professional Involvement
  • Silver Beaver Award, Boy Scouts of America
  • Life Member, NAACP
  • Member, State and National Pharmacy Association
  • Secretary, Hattiesburg Association for Civic Improvement
  • Treasurer, Pine Belt Investment Association
  • Member, South Mississippi Business Association
  • Multiple Leadership Roles, Priest Creek Missionary Baptist Church
“Cohen Drug Co. has been a vital part of the neighborhood. Certainly, it is going to leave a void in the neighborhood.”
Eddie Holloway, Retired USM Dean of Student and former City Councilman

Photos

Renovation

ca. 2019

Historical Photos

Book an Event

Smith Drug Co. is available for lease for special community-based events. Leasing agreement approval for use of Smith Drug Co. is at the discretion of the Hattiesburg Convention Commission. Space inside Smith Drug Co. is limited. No outside food or beverage is allowed. The Hattiesburg Convention Commission manages the operation of Smith Drug Co.

Contact Us

Latoya Norman
Director of Museums for the Sixth Street Museum District, under which Smith Drug Co. is housed.
601-450-1942  •  lnorman@hattiesburg.org

Media

For media-related questions regarding Smith Drug Co., please contact:
Hattiesburg Convention Commission Marketing Department
601-268-3220  •  marketing@hattiesburg.org

Smith Drug Co is sponsored by