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/

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Medical Apartheid

This Week’s episode of Black History Fun Fact Friday is the recommendation of Harriet Washington’s Groundbreaking book Medical Apartheid.

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Medical Apartheid is about the deliberate infection of people with deadly or debilitating diseases, exposure of people to biological and chemical weapons, human radiation experiments, injection of people with toxic and radioactive chemicals, surgical experiments, interrogation and torture experiments, tests involving mind-altering substances, and a wide variety of others. Medical experiments on children, the sick, mentally disabled individuals, and most especially Blacks, often under the guise of “medical treatment” go back for centuries.

 

ea_d_38868_0_MissEversBoysOne well-known case of experimentation on Blacks is The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, a clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the U.S. Public Health Service to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis in rural African-American men in Alabama. Mrs. Evers Boys starring Alfred Woodard and Lawrence Fishburne is a movie modeled after this experiment. The men were told that they were receiving free health care from the U.S. government and for forty long years had to tackle the deadly side effects of a disease many of them didn’t know they had. Also, it must be stated that many of these men did not previously have the disease before the experiments began.

The Public Health Service started working on this study in 1932 during the Great Depression, in collaboration with the Tuskegee Institute, a historically black college in Alabama. Investigators enrolled in the study a total of 600 impoverished sharecroppers from Macon County, Alabama. Of these men, 399 had previously contracted syphilis before the study began, and about 201 did not have the disease. Because these men were poor and often had no access to free medical care, the enticing sound of free medical care, meals, and free burial insurance for participating in the study prompted many of the most reluctant to take part. None of the men infected was ever told he had the disease, nor was any treated for it with penicillin after this antibiotic became proven for treatment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the men were told they were being treated for “bad blood“, a local term for various illnesses that include syphilis, anemia, and fatigue.

9780385509930_custom-11bb499dd9e2430b63af7a3b00d4cbf9b26dd62c-s6-c30The product of years of research, Medical Apartheid is an excellent book and source of study by Harriet A. Washington on the dark history of medical experimentation on Blacks from the colonial times to the present. She speaks in depth about the history of such organizations as Planned Parenthood and The Negro Project, known previously as The American Birth Control League (whose true purpose was to rid the world of so-called “weak breeds” who were downgrading the American population through a system known as Eugenics), to other frightening tools on unwilling and unknown people.

Throughout the 1840s, J. Marion Sims for example, often referred to as “the father of gynecology”, performed surgical experiments on enslaved African women, without anesthesia. The women—one of whom was operated on 30 times—regularly died from infections resulting from the experiments. In order to test one of his theories about the causes of trismus (locked jaw) in infants, Sims performed experiments where he used a shoemaker’s awl to move around the skull bones of the babies of enslaved women. He also addicted the women in his surgical experiments to morphine, only providing the drugs after surgery was already complete, in order to make them more compliant.

A documentary that is a great compliment to Harriet’s book is called MAAFA, an explosive exposé of the racist eugenics agenda of the abortion industry in the United States. It makes the case that, though abortionists claim to advocate privacy, women’s rights, and reproductive choice, their true motive is racial genocide and ethnic cleansing and goes back for centuries.

MAAFA can be watched for free on YouTube HERE.

Get Medical Apartheid on Amazon HERE.

 

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And that’s it for this week’s episode of Black History Fun Facts. Here’s Last Week’s Post in case you missed it:

Week #5: Negro Spirituals

Books Every Woman Should Own

One of the things very few people know about me is that I’m a Certified Medical Assistant with a focus in Phlebotomy. I’ve also been trained by the American Heart Association for Pediatric First Aid, and Adult CPR. No one knows this because I simply don’t talk about it. I don’t offer too much information about myself unless I feel it is warranted. Plus, writing is way better.

Anyway, I can’t remember the last time I was really sick. Whether we’re talking about flu’s, colds, it’s been awhile and it’s been awhile for my husband as well. That’s because if you look around your house, there is probably a cure to almost everything you would normally run to the doctor for. In fact, there’s pretty much nothing you cannot cure with Herbs and a little bit of common sense.

Below are some books I have collected over time that I think every woman, especially every mother, should own:

Herbally Yours by Penny C. Royal:

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I call this book the “No Strings Attached” Herb book because it is literally a complete list of Herbs and Herbal combinations you could use for a variety of ailments without an agenda. With the exception of the introduction (which I opt to just skip), it is an alphabetized list of natural herbs to help with anything from High Blood Pressure to Infertility. It is also easy to follow. You can probably find it for real cheap on Amazon. My mother’s name is also Penney so it’s possible I’m just being biased :).

Home Remedies Health Handbook by John H. Renner, M.D., and the Consumer Health Information Institute:

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This book is a great compliment to Herbally Yours. If you buy Herbally Yours you have to buy this one too. That’s because while Herbally Yours gives you the list of Herbs to use, this one actually shows you how to use it! It’s got a lot of cool tips and gives you practical knowledge on how to care for over eighty common health problems. From constipation to tooth aches, the common cold and even diaper rashes, this book’s got you covered.

Natural Cures and Gentle Medicines by the editors of FC&A

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This book is great on information about diseases and common aches and pains. It has information on Alzheimer’s disease, Asthma, and even exercises to escape back pain. And get this: there’s even something in here on hiccups! That’s right, there are things you can do to stop hiccups. One exercise I do that works for me is that when I feel a Hiccup coming on I hold my breath. I know I know you’ve heard this before. But the trick to it is being able to hold your breath long enough. Hiccups occur when a ripple contracts the diaphragm, a large sheet of muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. This spasm causes an intake of breath that is suddenly stopped by the closure of the vocal cords. This closure causes the “hiccup” sound because there is a blockage of air. That’s why while hiccups happen out the blue; most people get them (myself included) when they eat too quickly. But if you relax, breath in, and hold your breath for a few seconds it’ll help stop the hiccups. This isn’t in the book this is just what I’ve found works best for me personally. You can actually feel the food going down too if you do it right and the hiccup goes away.

Now, there’s one book I do have, but that I do not want to recommend. The only reason I have it is because we’ve had it for awhile. To each it’s own so if you feel like confusing yourself you can go ahead and Google it. Llaila O Afrika’s African Holistic Health. It has some interesting health information in it, however he mixes too much of his own doctrine in with the information. I don’t like when people take stuff too far, you have to maintain a proper balance in your life. It’s one thing to want to learn more about your health as it relates to your cultural and ethnic background, but when you start assuming that everything black is good and white is bad that crosses the line. That doesn’t even make any sense. If you’re going to give information about how unhealthy white bread is do that. But don’t just say that it’s unhealthy because it’s white. Denote the unhealthy aspects of this food to what actually makes it unhealthy. Tell me that white bread is made from refined white flour containing several unwholesome constituents; tell me that though it’s produced from the whole wheat grain it is then subjected to the refining process which removes all traces of the husk, or bran and along with it all the goodness contained in the grain. But also tell me that it is not that which goes into the body that defiles the man but what comes out and that there are still some good aspects of the white bread. This is called balance. Don’t take it too far and don’t take it too lightly. To put it mildly, the books A-Z Herbs for Diseases and explanations on what causes them is good information, but too much of the book is filled with his own philosophy and that’s a dangerous combination in the research department. There are actually right and wrong ways to research and those who are not careful can easily get themselves highly confused. For example, in section 16: Holistic Perspectives the man said:

“Kissing is a European sexual and friendship custom…African men kiss each other and African women kiss each other because kissing is a spiritual custom. Caucasian kissing between men and women is primarily sexual.”

What?

Where are you getting this information from? This is what I’m talking about. You can’t go around just making up stuff. In the end I get the feeling I’m being indoctrinated into some Afrocentric Egyptology instead of learning about health which can lead astray those not rooted in the truth and is in turn counterproductive to the purpose of picking up the book in the first place.