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The Southern Underground Railroad: The Saltwater Railroad

Black History:  Special Delivery!!

The “Saltwater Railroad” is the name of the waterway traveled by enslaved persons fleeing from the South to Florida to reach freedom in the British-controlled Bahamas.  The Salt Water Railroad was similar to the Underground Railroad that the enslaved used to flee to northern states enroute to Canada.  The enslaved fleeing to the Bahamas began around the time that the U.S. invaded Spanish Florida.  Spanish Florida had been a location to which many seeking to escape slavery in the South would flee.  However, the 1819 Adams-Onis Treaty finalized the U.S. takeover of Florida, making it an unsafe destination for those seeking freedom.    

Accessing freedom in the Bahamas via The Saltwater Railroad began as early as 1821 and continued for 40+ years.  It was primarily used by the enslaved freeing from Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. 

Continue reading “The Southern Underground Railroad: The Saltwater Railroad”

Central State Lunatic Asylum For the Colored Insane:  First Mental Hospital For African Americans In The U.S.

Black History:  Special Delivery!!

Central State Asylum
Central State Lunatic Asylum For The Colored Insane

The Central State Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane opened its doors in 1868 to provide mental health treatment for African Americans. The quality of care and conditions was often substandard.  Like many institutions at that time, blacks receiving care were often segregated and subjected to substandard conditions. The 1866 Civil Rights act actually required that state-owned mental hospitals accept black patients.  Despite the law, mental hospitals refused to do so. Located in Petersburg, Virginia, it was the first facility to care for black people who were thought to be experiencing mental health challenges. However, the criteria for determining if a black patient had a mental disorder was often racist and inequitable.  Prior to the facility being opened, politicians and medical professionals in the state of Virginia viewed the enslaved as being at no risk for mental health challenges because they were not property owners. Thus, continuing to advance the stereotype of the inhumanity of black people. At the time, the prevailing sentiment was that only white landowners who were engaged in commerce would be at risk for mental health issues.  

At the close of the civil war, landowners and legislators, seeking to maintain control of the formerly enslaved began to assert that African Americans suffered a mental illness; especially if they were seeking to flee the South.  Doctors created fictitious diagnoses to label those who chose to migrate away from the south as deviant and mentally deficient. The characterization of freedom as the cause of a patient’s mental health diagnosis was intended to vilify emancipation and subjugate the formerly enslaved.  Blacks could be committed to the asylum for infractions such as not following oppressive Jim Crow laws. Infractions such as not stepping off the sidewalk to allow a white person to pass, arguing with a white supervisor, or talking back to a white law enforcement officer were incidents that could result in a black person being committed to the asylum.  Poverty was also a significant factor in admissions to the asylum.  

In recent years, over 800,000 patient records were discovered from the Central State Assylum, as well as pictures, letters, and various other documents.  Central State patient records were stored in onsite and were set to be destroyed until an astute professor,  Dr.King Davis from the University of Texas recognized the value of the medical records and sought to preserve them and undertake the tedious process of digitizing the records.  Davis was previously a commissioner for the Virginia Department of Mental Health. The institution remained segregated until the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is still in operation today.  
Sources:

http://www.jbhe.com/2014/02/treasure-trove-of-historical-data-on-the-history-of-mental-illness-among-african-americans/

https://blackthen.com/absurd-reasons-why-blacks-were-admitted-to-the-central-state-lunatic-asylum-for-the-colored-insane/

http://www.clarabartonmuseum.org/asylum/

 

 

Before The Montgomery Bus Boycott There Was The Baton Rouge Bus Boycott

Black History:  Special Delivery!!

 

Baton Rouge

On June 15, 1953, the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott occurred. It was the first Black bus boycott in in the U.S. Years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the black residents of Baton Rouge took a stand against racism and segregation. In 1950, the city began to require all residents to use segregated public bussing. Prior to this, black residents utilized black-owned public transportation and required all residents to use the city’s public transportation which enforced segregated seating. Black residents had to sit at the back half of the bus or stand, even if seats in the “white” section were empty. Black passengers comprised 80% of bus passengers and were fed up with standing up on buses while “white” seats remained empty, particularly after the company had raised fares from ten to fifteen cents in January 1953. Continue reading “Before The Montgomery Bus Boycott There Was The Baton Rouge Bus Boycott”

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