Honors Theses

Date of Award

2017

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

Department

Southern Studies

First Advisor

Ted Ownby

Relational Format

Dissertation/Thesis

Abstract

The area of my research concerns the treatment of the mentally ill at the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum during Reconstruction particularly mentally ill African Americans. My primary research came from reviewing archival documents regarding the asylum at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson, MS. The annual reports from the superintendent and board of trustees of the asylum provided the greatest amount of information. In addition to these documents, I also drew input from scholarly works on lunatic asylums including Whitney Barringer and Adia Brooks as well as writers on Reconstruction and the development of black culture in the United States. The finding of my research indicates that, towards the end of the nineteenth century, medicine and science became increasingly racialized which extended to the treatment of the mentally ill. As a result of this trend, the theory and practice of treatment for mentally ill African Americans was heavily influenced by prejudice and racial theory prominent in this period. In addition to an examination of scientific theory, my research suggests that problematic African Americans were sent to lunatic asylums even if they displayed no signs of mental illness. Once there, they provided the asylum and state with a surplus of free labor. The legacy of the failures of these institutions and abuses by the medical community in the twentieth century including the Tuskegee Experiments created a large amount of mistrust of healthcare providers in the black community today. Understanding the pitfalls of these institutions will provide a better understanding of how to reduce these suspicions and move towards equal mental healthcare for everyone.

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