Episode 13, Season 4
This nation has a long history of exploiting Black Americans in the name of medicine. A practice which began with the Founding Fathers using individual enslaved persons for gruesome experimentation evolved into state-sanctioned injustices such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, among others. Award-winning historian Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens details a chronology of medical malpractice and racist misconceptions about health while highlighting lesser-known stories of medical innovations by African Americans.
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Hasan Kwame Jeffries: When the coronavirus stopped the world from spinning, my fraternity brothers and I did what many people did to break the social isolation of home confinement—we began meeting over Zoom.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Our conversations ranged from the serious to the silly. We encouraged each other to be safe, to mask up, and ribbed each other for the hilarious ways we chose to stay busy. We were grateful for this little bit of escapism.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And we were all excited when the COVID-19 vaccine was approved. But not everyone was eager to get the shot. Vaccine hesitancy among my frat brothers—all college-educated Black men—was real.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Like others in the African-American community, their caution was not irrational. It was not rooted in the fictitious belief that the virus wasn't real, a fantasy that continues to fuel vaccine refusal among politically conservative whites. It was rooted instead in historical reality.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: African Americans have long suffered from medical racism. Stories of abuse from the Jim Crow era circulate widely within the African-American community. Several of my fraternity brothers who said they did not trust the federal government pointed to the Tuskegee Experiment. For several decades, starting in the 1930s, federal officials in Tuskegee, Alabama, withheld penicillin from Black men suffering from syphilis so that they could measure the effects of the disease. Other brothers mentioned Henrietta Lacks, who while a patient seeking treatment for cancer at Johns Hopkins, had cells harvested from her body without her permission—cells that continue to replicate to this very day in research labs around the world. And still others pointed to the forced hysterectomies that Black women such as civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer endured at the hands of white doctors in Mississippi.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Thankfully, though, this sordid history did not keep my fraternity brothers from getting the vaccine, but it did take several of them longer to get it—a pattern reflected in the broader Black community.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: The Black essayist James Baldwin observed: "We are our history." Indeed, we are that which we have experienced directly, and that which we have experienced indirectly through collective memory. And when it comes to medical treatment, these experiences affect people's willingness to seek care.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I'm Hasan Kwame Jeffries, and this is Teaching Hard History. We're a production of Learning for Justice—the education arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center. This season, we're offering a detailed look at how to teach the history of Jim Crow, starting with Reconstruction. In each episode, we explore a different topic, walking you through historical concepts, raising questions for discussion, suggesting useful source material and offering practical classroom exercises.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: This nation has a long history of exploiting African Americans in the name of medicine, going back to the nation's founding and early outbreaks of yellow fever. After emancipation, racist medical practices were used to continue controlling the bodies and lives of African Americans, creating a painful legacy of experimentation, forced procedures, sub-standard care and neglect.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Historian Deirdre Cooper Owens is the author of Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology. In a conversation with my co-host Bethany Jay, she details a chronology of medical malpractice and a pattern of racist misconceptions about health in the United States. They also discuss lesser-known examples of game-changing medical innovations by African Americans.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I'm glad you could join us.
Bethany Jay: For those in our audience who are not aren't familiar with Deirdre Cooper Owens, she is the Charles and Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine, and Director of the Humanities and Medicine Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and her first book, Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology, won the 2018 Darlene Clark Hine Book Award from the OAH as the best book written in African-American Women's and Gender History. Quite an accomplishment, and we're so happy you could be here with us today, your second appearance on the Teaching Hard History podcast. For those who don't know, Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens appeared on season one of the podcast in the ”Diverse Experience of the Enslaved” episode, which I think I have assigned to one or more of my classes every semester since. So thank you again for being here to share your expertise on medical racism.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Oh, my goodness. It is my pleasure to be back again. I feel very special and honored to be back a second time. And I am always happy to have a conversation with another historian who understands the import of this particular kind of American history. So thanks so much.
Bethany Jay: In season four of Teaching Hard History, we're obviously focusing on the post-emancipation experience of Jim Crow. But when we're talking about the intersections of medicine and race, we need to acknowledge that that history extends back into that very early colonial period. As we often do, we need to reach back into that era of slavery to provide context. Can you talk to us a bit about that?
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Yeah. I mean, you have European people coming to this country, and then you have a group of folk who are coming from a number of West African nations and some Central African nations, and they're also bringing their own knowledge about healing and medical care. And so I often tell students about an African enslaved man named Onesimus. I mean, obviously this is a name that was given to him by his owner. And he was gifted to a minister named Cotton Mather. And Cotton Mather was not just a minister, but an author and an intellectual, and a leader in colonial America. And in colonial America—I mean, as we're experiencing it now with this global pandemic—there were always these epidemics happening. And as people are dying from smallpox, Cotton Mather notices that his enslaved workers are not dying. Some of them are not even becoming sick. And he wants to know why, and so Onesimus tells him in his nation they practice inoculation.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: And so Onesimus is freed because of this. And Cotton Mather passes this on. It later circulates several decades later to General George Washington, right, before there's a United States, before he becomes the first president. He has to make a public health decision because his troops are dying because smallpox has reared its head again. And George Washington inoculates his troops. You know, it's a really contentious topic. People are outraged when they find out that, in fact, this information comes from an African-born person who was enslaved. You know, they think that it could be witchcraft. I mean, all kinds of things. But George Washington inoculates his troops. And guess what? They live. And they're able to fight in the Battle of Bunker Hill, and they win. And it really, some folk argue, changes the course of the war. And it's a public health initiative that comes from the knowledge of West African people. And so there are ways that you see African knowledge about how to heal that have really impacted early American history, even at the colonial level.
Bethany Jay: That's such a great story. I love that Onesimus's story is one where an enslaved person's medical knowledge leads to these advances in medicine. As you talk about in your book, one of the very common scenarios is one where enslaved people's bodies are used to promote the health and comfort of enslavers.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Oh, my goodness, yeah. I mean, teeth to create dentures would often be from enslaved people. Food was meted out to enslaved people, and so they weren't supping on sugary sweets, right? And so George Washington—you know, we learned as children, I don't know if children are still being taught this, I hope not, but I know when I was in elementary school I was taught oh, George Washington had dentures made of wood. No. In fact, two of his teeth were from an enslaved man.
Bethany Jay: Right. Can you give us an example or two of medical advances that have come through working with enslaved people or experimenting on enslaved people, as it were?
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Oh, yeah, there's so many. I talk about in my book a French-born physician who immigrates to the United States, and his name was Francois Marie Prevost. He performed two successful C-sections on enslaved women in Louisiana. He had first practiced performing C-sections on enslaved women in Haiti. And so he moves to Louisiana in the 1800s, and he continues this experimental work. And so he's been lauded for centuries as Francois Marie Prevost, the father of the C-section. A surgical method happened that revolutionizes gynecology, but it happens because the institution of slavery existed and Black women's bodies were very accessible.
Bethany Jay: Hmm.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: So many journals, medical journals during this time and medical case books are saturated with cases of enslaved people being used in this way. A physician or even a medical school can go to a slave owner, and they can say, "Hey, if your slaves were suffering from these conditions or illnesses, if you donate them to our school or allow me to perform these experiments on them, to fix them or to make them better, it's a good, it's a common good that I'm performing, because I'm increasing your property value, but I'm also advancing medicine."
Deirdre Cooper Owens: But there were also these beliefs about Black people. There are beliefs that Black people don't experience pain. Or if they do, it's so minimal that they can bear cutting, or they can bear really painful procedures in ways that white people cannot. So that means, "Oh! Of course Black women can give birth and don't experience pain. Oh, Black people can go through amputations of their limbs and not experience pain. Black people are in a state of intellectual arrested development, which means they don't have fear. They aren't afraid of surgeries or painful procedures." So doctors are using their bodies in ways that they would not use white patients.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: One of the clearest examples that I use for my students is the ways doctors would treat Black women for certain conditions. So there was a condition where, after women would give birth, sometimes there were tears. So they would have to be sutured or stitched. And the doctors believed that those surgeries were pretty painless for Black women. If a white woman, and in particular a white woman who was very wealthy or highly respected, suffered from the same condition, oftentimes she wouldn't even be approached because the doctor believed that she was so fragile she couldn't take the pain. And so what that means is ultimately the enslaved woman, her body is repaired surgically. But the white woman—I mean, it's really a cruel twist of fate—she's left to deal with the pain of that condition.
Bethany Jay: This idea about biological difference leads to some pretty devastating results in Philadelphia during the 1793 yellow fever epidemic.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Yeah. 1793 and the yellow fever epidemic was ravaging the city of Philadelphia. And Benjamin Rush, who was a founding father, and he was also arguably the country's most well-respected physician, and known as the father of American medicine and also the father of American psychiatry, considered very progressive for his day—he believed in women's medical education, was a staunch anti-slavery advocate—Benjamin Rush believed, however, that Black people were immune from yellow fever, although Black people were dying in great numbers in Philadelphia. But he goes to two Black leaders—they were ministers and highly respected—Reverends Richard Allen, who was the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and also Absalom Jones.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: And he says, "Hey, I need you to recruit Black people to take care of sick white residents, because you all are hardier, you're sturdier," right? "This disease doesn't affect you." And although Richard Allen and Absalom Jones let him know that he was mistaken about this supposed immunity, this is a moment where Black people are really trying to prove they're worthy of citizenship. And so they recruit Black people, and guess what happens? Black people begin to die in even greater numbers. It wipes out about 10 percent of the Black population. Richard Allen, he is infected, and he nearly dies from his bout with yellow fever.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: But some white residents begin to say that Black people took advantage of white Philadelphians. This one guy, he publishes a tract, and he says, "Black residents, when they would be in the houses nursing these patients, they were stealing." And so, you know, they were really the great scourge on the city, not yellow fever. Absalom Jones and Richard Allen are like, "Wait a minute, we didn't want to do this. We were recruited. And then you have us doing"—and I'll use 21st-century language here—"You have us doing frontline work. We're the ones who are digging the ditches. We're nursing sick people. We're exposed. It's clear that we can become infected because many of us have died. And now, we're now being accused of avarice and theft."
Deirdre Cooper Owens: And so these two men, Reverends Jones and Allen, published a political tract. And it outlines all of the ways that these beliefs about Black people were rooted in discrimination. And so the first political tract written by Black leaders in the new nation was centered around medical racism.
Bethany Jay: It really is fascinating. And both the original accusation about Black Philadelphians during yellow fever and the refutation by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones are available online, and we'll link to those resources in the show notes.
Bethany Jay: That belief in biological difference hasn't necessarily gone away. Can you give us a couple of examples of where we see that legacy of the belief in biological difference?
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Oh, yeah. I mean, the one where Black people don't experience pain. There is a study that was done by the University of Virginia in 2014. The study was published in 2016, so it's a simple Google search. And several medical students and residents, they had undergone a study assessing their beliefs in pain management with regard to white patients and Black patients. And they believed that Black people didn't experience pain, that their bodies aged quicker, that Black people had thicker skin. I mean, these are the results that are coming from medical students and residents in the 21st century. It's very similar to these ideas of biological difference that stem from the 1800s, that Black people don't experience pain or Black people have less lung capacity than white people because of a study that was done in the 1850s by a physician named Samuel Cartwright.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Well, if you're talking about enslaved people in the 1850s who are living in cramped quarters, slave cabins that don't have insulation, it's a one-room shack where people are stuffing holes with paper and fabric, there's a big fireplace and chimney, there's no air circulation. Well, of course it's going to affect your ability to breathe.
Bethany Jay: Right.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Well, 2017, a study comes out. It was rife for statistical errors, but it claimed that race and biology indicated that the airways of asthmatic African Americans became more inflamed than those of asthmatic white Americans. But just as Samuel Cartwright didn't provide context, the same thing with this 2017 study. Right? So yes, do Black people or African Americans suffer more from asthma than white folk in the US? Yes. Yes, they do. But the context is, in predominantly African-American neighborhoods, you have more environmental hazards like air pollution from highways, from factories. There are disparities in access to high quality health care. And so when the context is provided, you see it has nothing to do with biology, but it has everything to do with the factors that create these kinds of conditions.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: And so you have these beliefs that have this lingering effect, it really is medical racism from the 18th and 19th centuries, still penetrating the ways that scientists and doctors believe.
Bethany Jay: How do we help students to understand the difference between the sort of faulty science that claims that there are distinct biological differences among races with environmental and contextual factors that do lead to different health outcomes at times for people of different races?
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Yeah. I remember when I was teaching students who were largely freshmen, they were just coming from high school. And so a lot of their information, you know, sometimes was anecdotal, you know, like, "I thought only Black people got sickle cell."
Bethany Jay: Right.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: It was an evolutionary response to malaria. And so anybody who was living in an area where there were bodies of water that had lots of mosquitoes, it becomes the body's response. So whether you're Greek, whether you are from Bali, whether you're from Nigeria, any place that's near a large body of water, that's the body's response to protecting itself from malaria. So if we were to think about race as the indicator, it's going to lead us down a wrong path every time.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: This is Teaching Hard History, and I'm Hasan Kwame Jeffries. We prepare detailed show notes for each episode of this podcast, so that you can use what you learn here in the classroom. You'll find relevant resources, as well as a full transcript, complete with links to materials mentioned by our guests. You can find them at LearningForJustice.org/podcasts. Let's return now to Bethany's conversation with Deirdre Cooper Owens.
Bethany Jay: When we think about slavery, right at the center of it is the value, the monetary value, to put it very bluntly, of Black people's bodies, and in the case of obstetrics, Black women's reproductive potential. And so how does the reproductive value of enslaved people impact enslaved women?
Deirdre Cooper Owens: That's a really great question, because everything was bound up in the issue of money. A lot of really wealthy men were interested in the reproductive health of Black women, because they can't import Africans. The Constitution made that illegal in 1807, and so that means making sure that when Black women are pregnant and Black women give birth, trying to create the best health that we can for them under that condition. And I am using "best." I know you all can't see me because it's a podcast, but I'm using air quotes when I say that.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: You can Google databases that have slave ads. Oftentimes we'll look at these ads and they'll say "Breeding woman." So that indicates to someone interested in purchasing an enslaved woman that she can give birth.
Bethany Jay: Right.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Or that she's already a mother, that she has several children. And so that increases her economic value for the person who owns her. A lot of enslaved women would have children by their owners—not of their own free will, but because they were considered property. And typically, when you had people of European descent who were enslaving others, even in Europe, the condition of the child was not connected through the mother, it was always connected through the father. But what made the US unique: slavery, the condition of slavery was passed to a child by its mother. And what this means is it doesn't matter who the father was. It could literally be Thomas Jefferson, who indeed had children by his—the woman that he owned, Sally Hemings. Or it could be an enslaved man, a free man, a white man, a native man. It didn't matter, because if the condition passed onto the children from the father, that meant there could be a loss of enslaved children.
Bethany Jay: And when I talk about that rule that the child follows the condition of the mother, I often try to talk about the fact that it's very easy to know who the mother of a child is. It's much harder to know who the father is.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Yes.
Bethany Jay: And my students often pick up on the way that that rule incentivizes the sexual assault of Black women on the part of their enslavers.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Exactly.
Bethany Jay: How does the relationship between medicine and African-American people change as we transition from slavery to freedom, from slavery to Jim Crow, as it were?
Deirdre Cooper Owens: It's interesting. One would think, "Okay, everything's going to suddenly become better from slavery to freedom." And what we find is that same fraught history. There's a belief that, in essence, freedom was not necessarily a good thing for the health of Black people—mentally, but also physically. All of a sudden, the same ways that white physicians and scientists had been writing about Black people as stronger and hardier, you know, possessing a kind of superhuman strength to withstand pain, all of a sudden you have, they're weaker. And so from life insurance policies to medical insurance, you start to see that Black people have to pay more in terms of their insurance, these premiums.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: You also have a disregard for Black women's reproductive care, because there's no longer an economic price on the heads of Black people. The hospitals become segregated by law. Because if someone owns you, you're going to be treated at a hospital that the slave owner builds.
Bethany Jay: Right.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: And so sometimes that means that he's treating Black and white patients. When Jim Crow happens, the law essentially says that Black people and white people have to be treated separately. You now have these Black hospitals that are not Black-run. And the Black hospitals tend to be poorly-funded. I mean, there were all kinds of studies that were conducted by the government on Black people. They tended to be large scale and really unethical and medically irresponsible. And informed consent doesn't really seem to be applicable for Black people. This is during the age of freedom, and so it becomes the starting point for Black people having a real distrust of the medical field because where's the great change between slavery and freedom? They're not seeing a lot of it, in terms of their treatment.
Bethany Jay: And as you point out, one of those big changes is the erasure of monetary value associated with Black people. And so the idea of preserving Black women's reproductive health completely disappears, right? And we make a left turn into seeing Black women's reproductive lives as burdensome or dangerous. How does that impact Black women?
Deirdre Cooper Owens: We start to see that Black midwives, who were responsible for being the providers for Black women during pregnancy and childbirth, they are essentially being wiped out. There are all of these licensures that are being created, and because of very stringent and oftentimes very racist practices that leave them out, Black people are not able to get licenses. And so you begin to see a decline in the number of Black midwives. And so that greatly impacts the maternal health of Black women. We also see forced sterilizations of women in their early '20s. They would go in for routine exams, maybe there's something wrong, you know, they're suffering from migraines or, you know, they have a limp. They would find out years later that they had hysterectomies performed on them. The doctors, without their consent or knowledge, took away their ability to give birth.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: And so these kinds of things are happening. But also the ways that Black women started to be seen—and especially Black mothers are starting to be seen as financial burdens.
Bethany Jay: Right.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: And when you roll into the 20th century, you now have language like "welfare queens," the idea that Black women, single mothers are gaming the system. In the 1980s in particular, with the rise of crack cocaine, we have the idea that only Black mothers could give birth to crack babies. You know, Black women were not the only people smoking crack in the '80s. You know, that these little babies were somehow going to topple the US economy. I mean, there were all kinds of news stories, and senators making these pronouncements that these were going to be the single most expensive financial burden in the United States in its history. And then 20, 25 years later, you find out it was not true at all.
Bethany Jay: Right.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Learning for Justice has a special opportunity just for educators. After listening to this episode, you can earn a certificate for one hour of professional development. All you have to do is go to LearningForJustice.org/PodcastPD—PD for "professional development." That's podcastPD, all one word. Then enter the unique code word for this episode: consent—all lowercase. You'll also find a link in the show notes. It's a great way to get even more out of Teaching Hard History.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: In terms of studies that were conducted by the government on Black people, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study is probably the most famous. In 1932, the government wants to find out the ways that certain diseases affect the human body. And so Tuskegee, Alabama, is a town that has a disproportionate number of Black men who suffer from syphilis. And so the federal government and also the National Institute of Health partner with Tuskegee Institute, a really famous Black college. And so the leaders at this college, which is seen as the crown jewel in the Black community, they do a lot of recruitment, and they go to institutions that black people trust: the church, they go to schools. They have trusted community members and leaders who speak out on behalf of this study. And almost 600 Black men sign up.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: They weren't told they had syphilis, they were told they had "bad blood." "You have bad blood, and we're going to set up a study to help you." And they don't know that they're signing up in 1932 for a study that would last 40 years. In fact, the government was simply interested in finding out how the Negro male—that's what Black people were called then—would respond to syphilis throughout the course of their lives.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: The federal government, the National Institute of Health, they were utilizing this study to not cure Black men, but to see how the disease would ravage their bodies. These men are never treated for their disease. By the 1940s, when penicillin is known to cure syphilis, they're given a placebo.
Bethany Jay: That's amazing.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Black men died because they were never treated. They passed on the disease to their wives and their girlfriends and their children. And it really devastates the community. And so the 1950s roll around and the 1960s and the '70s. And the government is still doing this study. And there are a couple of doctors who find out about it and they're like, "Wait, what you're doing is wrong. This is unethical." And the government ignores the doctors' pleas, and in fact blacklists many of the doctors. And it wasn't until a whistleblower goes to the press in 1972 and a story breaks that the government finally suspends its study.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: After much petitioning by Black and white public health officials and activists and family members and some of the victims, President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, 60-something years after the start of the Tuskegee study, finally issues a formal apology to the victims and their families. An apology is issued after many of the players have died.
Bethany Jay: Mm-hmm.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: I think Tuskegee is a culmination of the ways that medical racism had been at play from the colonial period all the way to the so-called age of freedom. It's enraging and in some ways unsurprising.
Bethany Jay: It's amazing, and as you point out, at the base of a lot of this are these issues of informed consent, of people knowing what they are signing up for or not, whether it's the forced sterilizations of women, or whether it's the idea that you're getting treatment and you're not. The other really famous example that's become prominent in recent years is Henrietta Lacks.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Yes.
Bethany Jay: And what happened to her. And again, the idea of informed consent there. Can you talk with us just a little bit about Henrietta Lacks?
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Sure. She was a relatively young woman, a young wife and mother. Goes to Johns Hopkins Hospital and finds out she has cancer. And unfortunately, she dies. The doctors harvested her cells. And what they found, it was amazing. She had these cells that kept regenerating. Most cells die outside of the body. All of a sudden, here you have this woman who—I mean, she's dead, but her cells are living. So the doctors are calling them immortal. And in fact, they named the cells after her—HeLa Cells. Capital H and small e, and then Capital L-a.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: And so the doctors are just kind of like, "Hey! We have these immortal cells," and they're sending it to their colleagues all around the world. And all of a sudden, you have research labs and hospitals and research teams and biotech companies, they're all profiting from the knowledge of Henrietta Lacks's cells.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: It's kind of hard to get informed consent from a patient who has died. But in those cases, you're supposed to get informed consent from the family. Henrietta Lacks's family was not informed of what the doctors did. And they never gave consent. The family doesn't find out until decades later. Decades later! And these places are really profiting from the knowledge of her cells, and these cells have gone into space. They're everywhere around the world. They've been on all the continents in research. Her family doesn't even have medical insurance, they're so poor.
Bethany Jay: Oh, jeez. Yeah.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: And so in 2021—remember, she dies in the 1950s, in 2021, her family finally gets the legal representation so that they can sue the biotech companies who have profited from their mother's immortal cells. So sometimes when people think, "Oh, we're talking about somebody who died in the 1950s," the legacy of these practices show up in the 21st century.
Bethany Jay: It's quite amazing, and it speaks, as you say, to the legacy and the long-term impact of these medical practices.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Yeah. Yeah. When you think about all of those things that we've talked about, I think what for me is probably the most promising in the 21st century is now we know better. So we know better. And we now have a government arm, which is the CDC, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control, who finally said in 2021, "You know what? Medical racism is a public health issue. And so now we are going to create steps to combat this." And so a part of that is through education, a part of that is through community outreach, a part of it is through creating pipelines for young students of color to become doctors and nurses. And so we are finally addressing these things through the implementation of structures that are designed to be more inclusive. And equity sits at the center of it. And so that's what makes me hopeful that hopefully in 50 years, we won't have to have another podcast. That this really can be about teaching history, and not necessarily having history be in conversation with the present.
Bethany Jay: That's absolutely fabulous, and with so many things that we've talked about this season on the podcast, there's hope, but there's also work and diligence that needs to happen to make sure that that hope turns into something tangible.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Right.
Bethany Jay: And hopefully our listeners will take up that charge. So thanks so much for being here, Dr. Cooper Owens. It was a pleasure to talk with you.
Deirdre Cooper Owens: Yes, thank you so much.
Bethany Jay: Thank you.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Deirdre Cooper Owens is the Charles and Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she is the Director of the Humanities in Medicine program. Dr. Cooper Owens is the author of Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology. She is also the Director of the Program in African-American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia, where you can find an online exhibition called Déjà Vu, We've Been Here Before: Race, Health, and Epidemics.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Teaching Hard History is a podcast from Learning for Justice—the education arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center, helping teachers and schools prepare students to be active participants in a diverse democracy. Learning for Justice provides free teaching materials about slavery, Reconstruction, the civil rights movement and more. You can find award-winning films and classroom-ready texts at LearningForJustice.org.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Most students leave high school without an understanding of the Jim Crow era and its continuing relevance. This podcast is part of an effort to change that. In our fourth season, we put Jim Crow under the spotlight, examining its history and lasting impact.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Thanks to Dr. Cooper Owens for sharing her insights with us. This podcast was produced by Mary Quintas and senior producer Shea Shackelford. Russell Gragg is our associate producer. "Music Reconstructed" is produced by Barrett Golding. And Cory Collins provides content guidance. Amelia Gragg is our intern. Kate Shuster is the series creator. And our managing producer is Miranda LaFond.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: If you like what you’ve heard, please share it with your friends and colleagues. And let us know what you think. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We always appreciate your feedback.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I'm Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, associate professor of history at The Ohio State University, and your host for Teaching Hard History.
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- McGill University, 40 Years of Human Experimentation in America: The Tuskegee Study
- PBS Independent Lens, Unwanted Sterilization and Eugenics Programs in the United States
- Bitch Media, Fannie Lou Hamer Sounded the Alarm on Forced Sterilization
- Time, I Am Not Your Negro, James Baldwin and a Moment in History
- Deirdre Cooper Owens, Bio
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- Deirdre Cooper Owens, History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
- Teaching Hard History, Diverse Experience of the Enslaved (podcast)
- Forbes, Meet Onesimus, The Enslaved Man Who Saved Colonial Boston From Smallpox
- The Washington Post, Enslaved African Onesimus taught Cotton Mather how to inoculate against smallpox
- George Washington's Mount Vernon, Smallpox
- JSTOR Daily, Were George Washington's Teeth Taken from Enslaved People?
- American Journal of Public Health, Black Maternal and Infant Health: Historical Legacies of Slavery
- Smithsonian Magazine, How the Politics of Race Played Out During the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic
- Harvard Library Bulletin, "Justice to Our Colour Demands It": Absalom Jones and Richard Allen’s Narrative of African Americans in Philadelphia’s 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic
- PubMed, Racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations, and false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites
- Equal Justice Initiative, Pro-Slavery Doctor Claims Enslaved People's Desire to Be Free Is "Curable Mental Disease"
- Science News for Students, Racial discrimination may aggravate asthma, study finds
- The New York Times, People of Color Breathe More Hazardous Air. The Sources Are Everywhere.
- American Bar Association, Implicit Bias and Racial Disparities in Health Care
- HHS Office of Minority Health, Sickle Cell Disease Awareness
- National Archives, The Slave Trade
- Yale University, Yale Slavery and Abolition Portal
- Freedom on the Move, A database of fugitives from American Slavery
- Encyclopedia Virginia, "Negro womens children to serve according to the condition of the mother" (1662)
- Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, Sally Hemings
- African American Registry, The Black Hospital in America, a story
- The New York Times, Crack Babies: The Epidemic That Wasn't
- The Washington Post, 'You’ve got bad blood': The horror of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment
- Learning for Justice, Bill Clinton apologizes for Tuskegee Experiment
- Johns Hopkins Hospital, The Legacy of Henrietta Lacks
- CDC, Racism is a Serious Threat to the Public’s Health
- Library Company of Philadelphia, Déjà Vu, We've Been Here Before: Race, Health, and Epidemics