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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”

Amazing Grace:  The History Behind The Hymn 

Black History:  Special Delivery!!

 

“Amazing Grace” is one of the most well known and beloved hymns of all time.  The song has appeared on over 11,000 albums. It has been recorded by many different music artists including Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Elvis.  The hymn is loved by the black church as well.  The hymn was penned by former slave trader, John Newton (1725-1807).  Newton was born in London. His mother died just before his 7th birthday.  His father was a sea captain. At the age of 11, he joined his father at sea.  As he got older, Newton began drinking al leading a reckless lifestyle. He was later forced to join the British Navy.  While serving, he tried to desert and he received 96 lashes and was demoted.  Newton would go on to work as a crew member and captain on ships that transported enslaved Africans from Africa to the Americas.

While working on the slave ship, “Pegasus” he did not get along with the crew. As a result they left him in African with a slave trader, Amos Crowe. Clowe enslaved Newton and gave him to his African wife, Princess Peye.  She treated him very cruelly just as she did her other slaves. Newton’s father hired a sea captain to rescue him and bring him back to London. He returned home on the ship, “Greyhound” During the voyage home, the ship encountered a terrible storm. The ship began to fill with water near the hull and nearly sank. Newton began to pray and cargo on the ship miraculously shifted and covered the whole, stopping the water from filling the ship.  The Greyhound was then able to make it safely to shore. Newton believed that God had protected him and converted to Christianity. His new-found conversion did not immediately result in a complete change in his lifestyle. He continued his work in the slave trade, making three more voyages to bring enslaved Africans to England.  

In 1750 Newton married Mary Catlett. The couple did not have children but did adopt Newton’s two nieces.  In 1754, he retired from life at sea after suffering a stroke. However, he still continued to invest money into the slave trade.  Newton was ordained as a minister in the Anglican Church in 1764. During this time he wrote ovver 200 hymns which he used during his weekly sermons.  He penned the words for Amazing Grace in 1772. Not until 1835 would William Walker set the hymn to music in the tune that is currently used today.  

It would be 34 years from the time he left the slave trade until he actually renounced slavery through a pamphlet he published, “Thoughts Upon The Slave Trade”  The pamphlet shared the inhumane conditions and treatment that the enslaved faced.  In the document, Newton also apologized for waiting so long to denounce slavery. Of his actions, he reflected: “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.”  His publication was widely read and had to be reprinted several times due to demand.  At the time, Newton was also friends with English abolitionist William Wilberforce. In 1807, the Slave Trade Act was passed ending slavery in England.  

He died on December 21, 1807 

In 1982, Newton was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Sources:  

https://www.biography.com/news/amazing-grace-story-john-newton

https://www.sunsigns.org/famousbirthdays/d/profile/john-newton/

http://www.reformedreader.org/rbb/newton/amazingrace.htm

 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez:  Champions For Justice

Black History: Special Delivery!!

cesar chavez

1966 Telegram from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr to Cesar Chavez

Both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez became nationally recognized during the 1950s.  King gained acclaim through his involvement with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the support of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Chavez gained notoriety for his involvement with organized labor.  He moved up within the Community Service Organization (CSO) and eventually became its national director.  The fight to win union rights for Mexican American farmworkers won the attention and admiration of King.  Chavez later left the organization when he saw the group did not have the resources and resolve to aid in organizing farmworkers in 1958. Continue reading “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez:  Champions For Justice”

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