WHSC Library to kick-off Black History Month with “Jim Crow in the Asylum” Talk Thursday, Feb 3 at 12pm

The Woodruff Health Sciences Center Library will kick-off Black History Month with an online event on Thursday, Feb. 3, at noon. Dr. Kylie Smith, PhD, associate professor in the School of Nursing and the Department of History at Emory, will present “Jim Crow in the Asylum: Contesting Custody and Care in Southern Psychiatric Hospitals after World War II.”

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Full event description:

U.S. psychiatric hospitals were always intended to function as spaces of both custody and care. In the mid-20th century, legislation was passed in an attempt to improve conditions and treatment practices for patients, but these developments were delayed in the South due to persistent racial segregation. In this talk, Dr. Kylie Smith, PhD, draws on extensive archival sources to show the ways that Southern psychiatric hospitals in the mid-20th century had become home to many thousands of Black patients with mental and physical disabilities, where treatment and care was custodial at best, violent and abusive at worst.

From the admission process, to misdiagnosis and lack of care, psychiatric hospitals in the Jim Crow South were no place of asylum for Black patients. They were symbolic and actual spaces of institutional terror, approached by Black communities with caution. Yet they were also the scene of important civil rights activism in the 1960s, which revealed the ways that psychiatry functioned as a tool of white supremacy. This activism led to the end of segregation, but it could not fix the racism that underpins the provision of mental health and disability care today.

This talk is being held in conjunction with the National Library of Medicine’s online exhibit, “Care and Custody: Past Responses to Mental Health.” View the NLM online exhibit here.

Dr. Kylie Smith, PhD, is an associate professor and Andrew W. Mellon Faculty Fellow for Nursing and the Humanities, and the 2021-2022 President’s Humanities Fellow at the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry. She teaches the history of race and US health care in the School of Nursing and the Department of History at Emory. Her new book project, “Jim Crow in the Asylum: Psychiatry and Civil Rights in the American South,” is supported by a grant from the National Library of Medicine and the Emory Digital Monographs project and will be published by UNC Press in 2023.


Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022 at 12 p.m.

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