Percy Casino Corbin was born in Athens, Texas, on June 2, 1888. He was the son of Edward Corbin and Priscilla Wright Corbin. He grew up on the family farm and received his early education in public schools in Athens and nearby Corsicana before enrolling in a private institution in El Paso in order to prepare for studying medicine. Corbin attended the medical school at Howard University, in Washington, D.C., for one year and then transferred to the Leonard School of Medicine at Shaw University, in Raleigh, North Carolina. He received an MD in 1911.
Corbin opened a medical practice in Salem, Virginia, with a roommate from medical school, but in 1913 he moved to the town of Pulaski. Settling there afforded him the opportunity to serve a rural community in need of medical care and also made good business sense, as there were no other African American doctors in the area. On October 31, 1914, he married Evelyn Carrie Linscom, an El Paso native who had also attended Shaw University. They had one daughter and four sons.
Corbin’s patients initially came from the black community, but over time his practice also attracted white clients. His medical skills were on dramatic display in the autumn of 1918 during the influenza pandemic that gripped the town for several weeks and forced the closing of local schools, churches, and businesses. As officials called for additional medical supplies and set up an emergency hospital, Corbin and four other doctors worked around the clock to stem the spread of the disease. Ninety-two townspeople died before the epidemic subsided.
In 1920 Corbin erected a two-story building that housed his office and home until 1936, when he moved into a new residence. By 1921 he had organized the Pulaski Mutual Savings Society and served as its first president. A partner in the Graham, Corbin and Lewis Concrete Block Manufacturing Company, Corbin in 1923 erected the three-story Corbin Building from block the company produced. He moved his office there, rented the first floor to African American businesses, and let the upper floors as apartments.
Corbin was deeply concerned about education, and while president of the Calfee Training School’s improvement league he appeared before the Pulaski County school board in May 1936 to request an accredited school for African Americans. The Calfee Training School had long been neglected, and after it burned in November 1938, he launched a campaign to equalize school facilities for black students with those available to white children. Enlisting the help of Chauncey Depew Harmon, the principal of Calfee Training School, and of state representatives from the NAACP, Corbin petitioned the school board for a new facility and for equal pay for African American teachers. He also appealed to the community, and his letter to the local Southwest Times outlining the plight of black children won a sympathetic editorial and generated support from the white public and local civic groups. Despite such public sentiment, Corbin achieved only partial success. The board agreed to fund a new elementary school but decided to transport black high school students to the Christiansburg Industrial Institute in Montgomery County.
After the Calfee Training School burned, Corbin had sent his high school–age son to Washington, D.C., for instruction. When his youngest son, Mahatma N. Corbin, was preparing to enter high school, Corbin decided to send him to the Christiansburg Industrial Institute. After discovering, however, that his son would not be able to use the library or participate in after-school activities because the bus departed for Pulaski immediately after classes ended, Corbin again sought legal assistance from the NAACP. Attorneys Oliver W. Hill, Martin A. Martin, and Spottswood William Robinson III filed suit on behalf of Corbin’s son late in December 1947 in the U.S. District Court in Roanoke, alleging that the school arrangement violated the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In the case of Corbin et al. v. County School Board of Pulaski County, Virginia, et al., Judge Alfred D. Barksdale ruled in the school board’s favor on May 2, 1949. On appeal the following November the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that there were “manifest inequalities” among Pulaski’s three white high schools and the Christiansburg facility. It reversed the lower court’s decision and instructed it to grant relief to the plaintiffs. Corbin’s victory was one of only six successful lawsuits supported by the NAACP in its legal campaign to equalize school facilities before Brown v. Board of Education (1954).
Active in professional and civic affairs, Corbin joined the Magic City Medical Society, the National Medical Association, the Old Dominion Medical Society, and the Freemasons. He served as president of the Pulaski chapter of the NAACP and was a leader and benefactor of the local African American branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association, which was named in his honor. At a time when blacks faced official hostility and a discriminatory poll tax, Corbin regularly exercised his right to vote and encouraged other African Americans to do so. An outspoken reformer, he sometimes adopted views that caused agitation in the black as well as in the white community.
While visiting two of his sons in Detroit, Corbin became ill suddenly and was rushed to a black-owned hospital, where he died on July 6, 1952. His body was returned to Pulaski for burial in Pinehurst Cemetery.