Show Way Quilts and Family History

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February is African American History Month!

“Slaves whispered what no one was allowed to say: That Mathis know how to make…a Show Way. Came to her when they needed to talk; came to her for the stories of brave people; came to her for the patch pieces just before they disappeared into the night.”

Show Way, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Hudson Talbott

Sterilization Forced on Poor Women

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“Forced sterilization and welfare have been linked for nearly half a century. Mississippi state legislator David H. Glass instituted a bold experiment when he sought legal means to force sterilization upon welfare mothers in 1958. By 1960, his “act to discourage immorality of unmarried females by providing for sterilization of the unwed mothers” passed in the House by a vote of seventy-two to thirty-seven but died in the Senate as the black activist Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) protested and distributed a pamphlet entitled “Genocide in Mississippi.””

“In June 1973, the abuse of two young sisters in Montgomery, Alabama, exposed the decades of stolen African American fertility. A Montgomery Community Action Agency nurse took the girls to the hospital for a federally funded contraceptive shot and obtained the “X” of each illiterate parent on the consent form. But their parents later learned that the girls had been surgically sterilized, and they asked Atlanta’s Southern Poverty Law Center for help. When SPLC filed a class-action lawsuit to end the use of federal funds for involuntary sterilization, its lawyers discovered that 100,000 to 150,000 women had been sterilized using federal funds and that half these women were black.”

“Women were also forced into sterility by governmental welfare programs, upon which unskilled black women workers relied to supplement their meager wages. While a social worker in upstate New York during the 1980s, I learned from old case files that during the 1960s and 1970s, social workers conducted frequent late-night raids on the homes of aid recipients. If a man was discovered, the family’s aid could be cut off unless the woman agreed to sterilization, guaranteeing there would be no additional children for the state to support.”

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

Left For Dead

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“In Anderson, South Carolina, in 1839 a group seized a black boy and forced him to inhale ether from a handkerchief that was held over his mouth and nose. Soon the boy became motionless and unconscious and was feared dead. However, after an hour he revived, no worse for his alarming experience.”

“Robert Hinckley’s The First Operation Under Ether, an oil painting that dominates one wall of Harvard’s Frances A. Countway Library of Medicine, shows ether being administered to a supine white male attended by impeccably clad physicians in a theater holding tiers of enraptured doctors.”

“This stately image is a beautiful fiction with a brutally factual negative: The body of a black slave seized by laughing medical thugs, forced to inhale ether, and left for dead in the road.”

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

The Myth of Dr. Sims

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The Myth

“On a sylvan stretch of New York’s patrician upper Fifth Avenue, just across from the New York Academy of Medicine, a colossus in marble, august inscriptions, and a bas-relief caduceus grace a memorial bordering Central Park. These laurels venerate the surgeon James Marion Sims, M.D., as a selfless benefactor of women.”

The Facts

“Each naked, unanesthetized slave woman had to be forcibly restrained by the other physicians through her shrieks of agony as Sims determinedly sliced, then sutured her genitalia. The other doctors, who could, fled when they could bear the horrific scenes no longer. It then fell to the women to restrain one another.”

“Betsey’s voice has been silenced by history, but as one reads Sims’s biographers and his own memoirs, a haughty, self-absorbed researcher emerges, a man who bought black women slaves and addicted them to morphine in order to perform dozens of exquisitely painful, distressingly intimate vaginal surgeries. Not until he had experimented with his surgeries on Betsey and her fellow slaves for years did Sims essay to cure white women.”

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington