Black History Fun Fact Friday – “Drapetomania”

Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright was a prominent physician and medical writer in New Orleans. He specialized in “mental alienation,” an expression that meant a break with reality or a schism in mind. Cartwright is most known and remembered for his theories of drapetomania—the belief that a disease caused slaves to run away. Also known as “Free Negro Insanity,” Cartwright defined “Drapetomania” as the madness of black slaves running away from their white captors.

He derived this term from the Greek words drapeto, meaning “runaway slave” and mania, meaning “mad” or “crazy.” Cartwright believed that blacks who rebelled did so because of mental instability. He thought with the proper medical advice and treatment, they could prevent the practice of slaves running away. By 1851, Cartwright became “Professor of Diseases of the Negro” at the University of Louisiana and was deemed an expert on black behavior.

Cartwright’s theories were readily accepted because the law had already begun to link radicalized slaves who were “disobedient” to mental illness. “Cartwright compared runaway slaves to run away cats who fled only in fits of enthusiasm from their owners, and then returned.” (Eberly, 2014) To put it into perspective the extent to which enslaved men and women were considered commodities, consider redhibition, “a civil law claim against the seller and/or manufacturer of a product in which the buyer demands a full refund or a reduction of the purchase price due to a hidden defect that prevents the product from performing the task for which it was purchased.” (US Legal) If a buyer could prove a slave was mentally ill and that the previous owner knew of this illness (his/her capacity to run away, rebel, e.g.), the buyer could get his money back.

Another disease from Cartwright was “Dysaesthesia Aethiopica,” which in short was a disease Cartwright and other “prominent,” physicians claimed caused laziness in slaves.

“From the careless movements of the individuals affected with the complaint, they are apt to do much mischief, which appears as if intentional, but is mostly owing to the stupidness of mind and insensibility of the nerves induced by the disease. Thus, they break, waste and destroy everything they handle,–abuse horses and cattle,–tear, burn or rend their own clothing, and, paying no attention to the rights of property, steal others, to replace what they have destroyed. They wander about at night, and keep in a half nodding sleep during the day. They slight their work,–cut up corn, cane, cotton or tobacco when hoeing it, as if for pure mischief. They raise disturbances with their overseers and fellow-servants without cause or motive, and seem to be insensible to pain when subjected to punishment.”

– “Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race.”

From James Marion Sims, who experimented on black women’s bodies and without anesthesia (Washington, 2006, pp. 61) to Ota Benga and Saartjie Baartman, whose bodies were displayed like animals, the medical and scientific field has an extensive history of racism against African Americans. Consider that blacks were often wrongfully admitted to mental institutions. Studies conducted in 1973 in the Archives of General Psychiatry showed that African American patients were more likely to be diagnosed as schizophrenic than white patients. Consider too The Negro Project, led by Margaret Sanger of The American Birth Control Federation. It included the forced sterilization of impoverished African Americans.

Consider also the HeLa cell.

Rebecca Skloot’s book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacksand Oprah’s film adoption brought attention to the widespread illegal use of the HeLa cell lineThe two scientists, Dr. Russell W. Brown and James H.M. Henderson made their mark by leading a team of researchers and staff at Tuskegee University in the mass production of the HeLa cells for the development of the polio vaccine. It was believed that blacks were immune to the virus which led to the disregard for the suffering of African Americans with the disease.

Speaking of Tuskegee, we cannot forget the Tuskegee Experiment or, more accurately, “The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” Initiated by the United States, Public Health Service in connection with the Tuskegee Institute and the John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital, six hundred men were given the Syphilis disease, without consent, and were left untreated. This “experiment” lasted as late as 1972. Long-term effects of untreated syphilis included issues with mental functions, memory loss, loss of vision, balance, and other symptoms.

Understanding mental illness and its role in the enslavement and oppression of blacks is essential because it offers a window into how slave-owners justified slavery to keep it going. Consider the story of the white overseer who used mental illness to explain away why he had killed an enslaved man named Samuel. (Willoughby, 2018). The overseer got word that Samuel had become unmanageable, that he was destroying cotton, and that even after being ordered to be whipped, Samuel said he would not be whipped. Both of Samuel’s acts—his destruction of the cotton crop, and his unwillingness to submit to whipping— represented symptoms for what Cartwright deemed “Dysaesthesia Aethiopica,” and thus the murder was justified.


Be sure to check out more Black History Fun Facts Here.

References

Ariela Gross, Double Character: Slavery & Mastery in the Antebellum Southern Courtroom (Princeton, 2000), 87

Willoughby, Christopher D. E. “Running Away from Drapetomania: Samuel A. Cartwright, Medicine, and Race in the Antebellum South.” Journal of Southern History, vol. 84 no. 3, 2018, p. 579-614. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/soh.2018.0164.

Disability and the African American Experience https://www.museumofdisability.org/disability-and-the-african-american-experience/

Redhibition. (n.d.) In US Legal, Redhibition Law and Legal Definition

https://definitions.uslegal.com/r/redhibition/

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

Development of the Polio Vaccine: A Historical Perspective of Tuskegee University’s Role in Mass Production and Distribution of HeLa Cells. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4458465/

Dying on my Feet: Why I Write (A Message)

Last week, I asked for support of Black-Owned Businesses in a campaign that runs from June 19, 2020 (today) through July 6, 2020. I added that those who RSVP to join the campaign, called My Black Receipt, will be in the running to win a free signed copy of one of my books.

I got no support and no email with an RSVP screenshot for a free book.

What I Got:

  • 6 email unsubscribes
  • 2 Abuse Complaints
  • 1 Nasty Email Reply

I was told I was discriminating against other races and religions and that I had gone “too far,” for asking people to support black-owned businesses.

Instead of talk about that, I thought I’d re-introduce myself. I realize some of you are new to me, so you may not fully understand the extent of my work.

Atlanta African American Book Festival | Georgia State University circa July 2018. Copyright © Yecheilyah Books LLC

My passion for the state of my people isn’t something that sprang up while watching protests on the news. I am not a “jump on the bandwagon,” kind of person. Supporting black people and black businesses is something I have done for many years. For me, it’s not about “white vs. black.” It has never been. It is about good vs. evil and right vs. wrong.

I write Black Historical Fiction and Poetry. My work targets black readers and aims to raise the consciousness of all people interested in understanding the plight of Black America.

The reason I say “Black America” is because Israelites/Blacks/African Americans have lived a different experience than the rest of the World, and for years that experience has been virtually unknown to non-black people. My goal is to expose those unknowns and free the mind of the black man, woman, and child.

I strive to manifest the restoration of the forgotten past to a forgotten people through book publishing and education.

In doing so, I hope my books can provide a roadmap for all people who find it difficult to be liberated in their own lives. I understand this isn’t easy to do considering the level of misinformation, deception, and religious ideologies that have enslaved us for so long.

I believe that faith without works is dead, so being actively involved is fundamental to me. Black readers are those I target and have targeted long before the Black Lives Matter movement. We are the people for whom my books are written, and these are our stories.

Those familiar with my work understand this statement by no means alienates other nationalities of people.

In the words of the Messiah Yahoshua, who I believe was a black man, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel .” (Matt. 15:24) It is to the lost sheep first and then to the nations. I believe black people are those lost sheep, and before I can liberate the minds of non-black people, I must work to free the black mind first.

I won’t apologize for this.

I have promoted people of all races, belief systems, and countries on this blog and social media, but I have also spoken about my love for black people. Anyone surprised about this either has not been paying attention or doesn’t know me very well and, therefore, are not members of my targeted audience.

And that’s okay.

I am not worried about those who leave because I would rather “die on my feet than live on my knees.” I would rather lose support standing for what I believe in than to sell myself short for a pat on the back. In the words of MLK, who so many non-black people are so apt to quote, “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

For anyone to say my request for support of black businesses is abusive and discriminatory is proof of the very abuse and racial discrimination blacks face every day from people who do not understand what it’s like and what it means to be “black” in America.


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#Spotlight “The Stella Trilogy” by Yecheilyah Ysrayl

Thanks Felicia!

Nesie's Place

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Stella: Between Slavery and Freedom

In book one, Cynthia McNair and her boyfriend, Alex, express some racist feelings toward blacks. They visit Cynthia’s Grandmother Sidney McNair, who recounts the story of her ancestor, a slave named Stella Mae. Cynthia has no idea of her African ancestry or how deep this rabbit hole goes.

AMAZON

~~~

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Stella: Beyond the Colored Line

In book two, we dig deeper into the McNair family’s legacy. Named after her great-grandmother, Stella has a very light complexion, causing her to be the tease of her classmates. Unable to find solace among her African American contemporaries, Stella finds it challenging to adjust to a world where she is too light to be black. After The Great Depression of the 1930s forces Stella’s family to move to Chicago, a conversation with Aunt Sara provokes Stella to do something that will dramatically affect not just her life but the…

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Black History Fun Fact Friday – Slave Patrols: A Brief History of American Policing

This post was originally published under another blog series Unfamiliar Faces: Lost to History. Due the current climate I have revised this post and re-categorized it under Black History Fun Facts.


Originally Published: July 14, 2015

Revised May 29, 2020

slave-patrols-police-origins

The tragic murder of George Floyd, who sadly joins the ranks of several unarmed black men killed by the police, has sparked outrage, protests, and unrest. Images and footage of the officer, Derek Chauvin (who had 18 prior complaints against him according to the Minneapolis Police Department’s Internal Affairs), kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he repeated the too familiar phrase, “I can’t breathe!” is both horrifying and heartbreaking.

In response to the looting taking place by protesters of Floyd’s death, American President Donald Trump went on to call the looters “Thugs,” commenting that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The phrase comes from a 1967 quote used by Miami’s police chief, Walter Headley, in 1967, when he addressed his department’s “crackdown on … slum hoodlums,” according to a United Press International article from the time.

From the killing of Emmett Till in 1955 that sparked the Civil Rights Movement, to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church killing those four little girls in Birmingham Alabama in 1963 (Addie Mae Collins, 14, Cynthia Wesley, 14, Carole Robertson, 14, and Carol Denise McNair, 11). From the 1965 Watts Riots that broke out over Marquette Frye, to the police officers who beat Rodney King in 1991 and the riots that broke out over their acquittal. From the killing of Trayvon Martin, Micheal Brown, Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor and many others, Black people are frustrated and crying out for redemption.

Today, we look at the racists’ roots in American policing.

Slave Patrols had three functions: to chase, apprehend, and return the enslaved who had run away to their “owners,” to organize terror to deter slave-revolts and to maintain discipline for slave-workers who were subject to violence if they broke plantation rules. These organizations evolved into southern police departments whose job was to control the freed slaves who were now working as laborers and to enforce the Jim Crow segregation laws that denied freed people certain human rights.

“Early American police departments shared two primary characteristics: they were notoriously corrupt and flagrantly brutal. This should come as no surprise in that police were under the control of local politicians. The local political party ward leader in most cities appointed the police executive in charge of the ward leader’s neighborhood. The ward leader, also, most often was the neighborhood tavern owner, sometimes the neighborhood purveyor of gambling and prostitution, and usually the controlling influence over neighborhood youth gangs who were used to get out the vote and intimidate opposition party voters. In this system of vice, organized violence and political corruption it is inconceivable that the police could be anything but corrupt (Walker 1996).” –  Dr. Gary Potter

Slave Patrollers were white men who rode around on horseback carrying guns, rope, and whips, ready to capture the enslaved. Their job was also to enforce the pass system, a pass, or ticket, signed by the slave master that authorized the enslaved to travel. Without this pass, an enslaved person could be beaten, and beatings sometimes happened even when the person had a pass, eerily similar to black men and women who are beaten, choked, gunned down, and stepped on even when they have done nothing wrong.

In her book, Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas, Sally Hadden writes, “mounted man presents an awesome figure, and the power and majesty of a group of men on horseback, at night, could terrify slaves into submission.” Many members of the black community still refer to large police vehicles as “patty-wagons,” a play on the former “paddyrollers,” which was also a nickname for Slave Patrols.

Run, nigger, run; the pateroller catch you,
Run, nigger, run, almost dawn.
Run, nigger, run; the pateroller catch you,
Run, nigger, run, almost dawn.

Source: Wolf Folklore Song – RUN NIGGER RUN, THE PATEROLLER CATCH YOU (RUN, NIGGER, RUN)  sung by Joe Pat| Also found in Randolph, Vol. II, #264; Brown, Vol. III, #457| Source: http://web.lyon.edu/wolfcollection/songs/patrun1287.html

As K. B. Turner  David Giacopassi  &  Margaret Vandiver remark in Ignoring the Past: Coverage of Slavery and Slave Patrols in Criminal Justice Texts, “the literature clearly establishes that a legally sanctioned law enforcement system existed in America before the Civil War for the express purpose of controlling the slave population and protecting the interests of slave owners. The similarities between the slave patrols and modern American policing are too salient to dismiss or ignore. Hence, the slave patrol should be considered a forerunner of modern American law enforcement.”


For more Black History Fun Facts, click here!

SugarCoated and Springtime

They get tired of hearing it.
Ain’t nobody got to say it,
I know that they get tired.
Tired of these distractions in brown-colored skin
waking up from Valley’s
with muscles and tendons
all conscious-like.
Uncovering the blood in the American Flag—
Tired, tethered, and intoxicated
with his story.
Unraveling the color of bigotry on a beautiful glass,
Smeared fingerprints and fallen stars like
Why they keep sittin’ in?
Between our comfort and a hard place.
America,
This be some kinda hard place
for brown-colored skin
in the springtime.

Strange fruit popping up again on trees,
‘cept Nina ain’t here to sing us a song.
After 400 years
songs just don’t work anymore.
Tired of these guns accidentally going off,
Landing somewhere in my purse.
somewhere in my womb.
Somewhere in my future between lipstick and foundation.
I’ve got to warn my sons
about accidental guns.
Generational homicide got me on my knees praying
the badge
ain’t got his name on it.
Let’s be accurate about it.
Will I be left with the fragmented
pieces of my husband’s shoes
between our front porch and the living room floor?

Will my kiss linger long enough to bring him home tonight?
Or will I suffer a widow’s fate of mistaken identity?
After all, these brown, tan, bronze, and mahogany-colored
skins all do look the same…
Don’t they?

I’m afraid of your guns.
They don’t know the difference
between friend and foe–
or maybe, they do.
Funny how bullets be mistakin’ themselves for judges
that ain’t got names on them.
They say a gun
ain’t got a name on it.
Why are they sugar-coating it?

‘Cause people get tired of hearing about all this black…
All this oppression,
All these curses,
All this power like,
Why we won’t pour sugar on top of these bodies?
Get ’em up off the street.
Don’t want our bullets to get stirred up, ya know.
Getting up outta beds,
loading themselves into chambers
and taking walks at night,
in the afternoon, and especially in the morning,
when it’s springtime.


Fun Fact: I first wrote this poem four years ago (almost to the day). Reposting because it is still fitting for today’s climate. You can find it in my I am Soul poetry collection. 

Revising The Stella Trilogy: Crafting Authentic Historical Details

In Beyond the Colored Line, book two of The Stella Trilogy, we meet Noah Daniels who is a member of The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. There are two books I read that helped me to conceptualize his character in the most authentic way possible: Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton and The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther by Jeffrey Haas.

These books helped me to capture the language and the spirit of the movement as realistically as possible. I modeled Noah’s persona after both Huey Newton and Fred Hampton. Noah uses terms like “Pig,” regarding the police like the Panthers did in the 60s, but reading Newton’s story helped me to understand this wasn’t a random term they pulled out of the sky to be derogatory.

Black Panther rhetoric like “All Power to the People,” and the concept of “pig,” came with Newton’s interest in A. J. Ayer’s logical positivism, that nothing can be real if it cannot be conceptualized, articulated, and shared. While I do not agree with this philosophy as a person of faith (because faith is the opposite of this…the belief and expectation of something even when you cannot see it), it was helpful in me understanding the Panthers on a deeper level and thus helped me to make Noah’s story more real.

Not all research needs to be included in the story so you won’t hear Noah quoting A.J. Ayer. The point of research for historical books is to help the writer to better understand the culture of the time so the characters can interact with the setting genuinely.

Historical Fiction is not an easy genre to write because while the story itself is fictional, the dialogue and personas of the characters have to be true to the time. A young person living in 1960 wouldn’t speak like a young person living in 2020. If done right, adding authentic historical details enrich the story by triggering memories of the past.

Excerpt from Chapter Ten:

“That just bugs me. We supposed to march and get hit upside the head by the pigs?” he would say in conversations with his mother when he would visit her. Unlike many young black men raised by their mothers, Noah’s mother had decided early on that her son’s narrative would be different. When he came of age, she would turn him over to be raised by his father. She could provide a lot of things, but she could not teach him how to be a man. She supported most of Noah’s radicalism, but only to an extent.

“Now don’t you go rappin’ ‘bout all that communist jive talk in here boy. Violence and hatred never helped to expand no revolution.”

“But Ma, that’s where you’re wrong. It’s not about violence. It’s about defending ourselves. Violence is only the guilt complex that exists in the minds of America.”

Mama Daniels would lift her head to the ceiling, wishing she’d said nothing.

“To say that a man is violent because he defends himself does not differ from saying a man who is being lynched and thus fighting back is himself violent because he fights back.”

“Boy, what? You know, sometimes I wish you weren’t so smart.”

Noah laughed, “’cause you know I’m right. Mama, white Americans know that they have been violent against Negroes, and they fear that one day the Negro will do unto them as they have done unto the Negro.”

The 1960s presented a new wave of leadership and identity for people of color who went from being Negroes to Blacks. Just the previous year, the heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali refused induction into the army on both religious and political grounds. The epitome of the black power movement was the Black Panther Party, founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. This party organized the use of self-defense in the accomplishment of black justice and was right up Noah’s alley.


Stella: Beyond the Colored Line

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