Doctoring Freedom

Doctoring Freedom: The Politics of African American Medical Care in Slavery and Emancipation

Gretchen Long
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  • Book Info
    Doctoring Freedom
    Book Description:

    For enslaved and newly freed African Americans, attaining freedom and citizenship without health for themselves and their families would have been an empty victory. Even before emancipation, African Americans recognized that control of their bodies was a critical battleground in their struggle for autonomy, and they devised strategies to retain at least some of that control. InDoctoring Freedom, Gretchen Long tells the stories of African Americans who fought for access to both medical care and medical education, showing the important relationship between medical practice and political identity.Working closely with antebellum medical journals, planters' diaries, agricultural publications, letters from wounded African American soldiers, WPA narratives, and military and Freedmen's Bureau reports, Long traces African Americans' political acts to secure medical care: their organizing mutual-aid societies, their petitions to the federal government, and, as a last resort, their founding of their own medical schools, hospitals, and professional organizations. She also illuminates work of the earliest generation of black physicians, whose adult lives spanned both slavery and freedom. For African Americans, Long argues, claiming rights as both patients and practitioners was a political and highly charged act in both slavery and emancipation.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0147-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Health Sciences, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    “What about the colored doctor? . . . with the hospital, and the diamond ring, and the carriage, and the other fallals?” asks Colonel McBane, a vicious white supremacist in Charles Chesnutt’s 1901 novel,The Marrow of Tradition. McBane and his two cronies, upset about the rising position of African Americans in their small southern city, are making plans to run a number of prominent black men out of town. They decide quickly to expel the editor of the black paper and the black real estate agent, who have championed civil rights. Disposing of the “colored doctor,” laden with trappings...

  5. CHAPTER ONE When the Slaves Got Sick Antebellum Medical Practice
    (pp. 11-43)

    In 1856 a brief article by planter and physician W. C. Daniell titled “Health of Young Negroes” appeared in the southern agricultural journalDeBow’s Review. Daniell wrote that, from “recent conversations” with a fellow Louisiana sugar planter, he had learned that “lock jaw” had killed a large number of infants on Louisiana sugar estates. His article was an attempt to share with other planters a postpartum regime that would decrease the incidence of this disease on plantations. The lockjaw, he maintained, had its origin in the breast milk that slave infants ingested in the first ten days of life. Once...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Sickness Rages Fearfully among Them A Wartime Medical Crisis and Its Implications
    (pp. 44-69)

    “Shelter, clothing, fuel, physicians bills and expenses of burials have been a very heavy tax on us, for so large a class, so destitute of every thing.” Thus did O. H. Browning, a former U.S. senator from Illinois, assess the situation of the African American people he encountered during the Civil War. His words acknowledge the numbers of needy African Americans during this time. However, the same phrase masks the enormous diversity of situation and circumstance among the Civil War–era African Americans living far from the plantations and farms where they had spent their lives. Some were soldiers in...

  7. CHAPTER THREE We Have Come Out Like Men African American Military Medical Care
    (pp. 70-89)

    Union army officers and white reformers were not the only authors of appeals for medical aid for fugitive ex-slaves. Letters and testimonials written by African American soldiers frequently described medical and living conditions and stressed the urgent need for aid. However, the premise of their appeals was different from that of either the officers or the reformers. Where the officers needed the labor of the ex-slaves and the reformers felt a moral obligation toward the sick and helpless, the soldiers demanded care for themselves and their families as part of what they perceived as a contract with the government of...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR We Have Come to a Conclusion to Bind Ourselves Together African American Associations and Medical Care
    (pp. 90-113)

    “I think they might help you it is only just.”¹ Running across this fragment of a letter and knowing that it concerned health care for African Americans during Reconstruction, a reader might assume it was addressed to a freedman in desperate need of help for himself or his family. In fact, the writer—a white chief surgeon in Georgia—is advising a newly appointed administrator how to obtain assistance in running his cash-strapped government program, namely by asking for help from an African American mutual aid association.

    Just as the courage, discipline, and patriotism of black soldiers in the Union...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE No License; Nor No Deplomer Regulating Private Medical Practice and Public Space
    (pp. 114-138)

    In the winter of 1866, John Donalson wrote a letter to General Oliver Howard, head of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Washington, D.C. Donalson’s was one of the thousands of letters sent by African Americans in the South during the earliest years of freedom. Unlike most African Americans, he was a medical practitioner. Donalson’s letter is typical of this huge body of correspondence in several ways.¹ In his righteous and combative narration, Donalson complains that a white Freedmen’s Bureau agent “said to freedmen for dispite he’s got no license; Nor no Deplomer. Don’t pay him.” Like so many petitions from ex-slaves,...

  10. CHAPTER SIX By Nature Specially Fitted for the Care of the Sufferer Black Doctors, Nurses, and Patients after the War
    (pp. 139-178)

    “Sacks of grits, soap, and mince pies” are on a list of charitable contributions to a hospital by African American citizens and prospective patients in Philadelphia at the end of the nineteenth century. The African American community had decided to take matters into its own hands and build a hospital that would accept African Americans as patients, as residents in surgery, and as nurses in training. In an extraordinary exercise of philanthropy and civic know-how, black Philadelphians in 1895 established the Frederick Douglass Hospital and Training School.

    African Americans’ efforts to obtain medical care in the years between emancipation and...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 179-184)

    For enslaved African Americans, the attainment of freedom and citizenship without health for themselves and their families would have been an empty victory. Even before emancipation, African Americans recognized that control of their bodies was a critical battleground in their struggle for autonomy, and they devised strategies to retain at least some of that control. The struggle of African Americans, since emancipation, for the right to health care and the right to become professional healers themselves is an essential part of the story of their struggle for freedom and autonomy. It also contains lessons for the present and future of...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 185-204)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-216)
  14. Index
    (pp. 217-234)