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J. F. Miller (John Fulenwider), 1834-1905
The Effects of Emancipation upon the Mental and Physical Health of the Negro of the South
[Wilmington, N.C.]: [s. n.], [1896].

Summary

As superintendent of the insane asylum for African Americans in North Carolina (the Eastern North Carolina Insane Asylum), John F. Miller presented his views in various papers delivered before medical societies and "Medico-Psychological associations" in North and South Carolina. One of these lectures appeared in an 1896 issue of the North Carolina Medical Journal under the title "The Effects of Emancipation Upon the Mental and Physical Health of the Negro of the South." Miller begins his treatise by claiming no "prejudice against the manumitted slave or his posterity" and by calling himself "the negroe's [sic] friend," claiming to have "been thoroughly reconstructed and readjusted to the changed political relations of the negro" (p. 1). Miller then offers statistics on the rise in mental and physical ailments among African Americans in the decades since the Civil War, blaming the alleged epidemics on the end of slavery and citing them as proof of the mental, physical, and moral inferiority of African Americans.

Miller's "science" remained virtually unchallenged by his contemporaries save for one rebuttal and the 1897 issue of "The Southern Sanitarium" newsletter (http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/scruggs/menu.html) by Lawson Andrew Scruggs, the African American director of the Pickford Sanitarium for Consumptive Negroes in Southern Pines, North Carolina. Modern readers of Miller will notice, as did Scruggs, that Miller's evidence is entirely coincidental. He presents no statistics on the rate of insanity and disease among African Americans under slavery, because, of course, few such records existed. He also offers only a scattering of figures on white infirmity in the postbellum era. Without such comparative numbers, Miller's claims that African American insanity and disease began after emancipation and rose at a higher rate than among the white population are suspect. Miller also only quickly acknowledges that the "patients" at black and white asylums were all forced to be there by court order, so how "insane" many of them really were was open to question. Finally, many historians assert that the blame for a rise in African American disease lay not in the "proverbially improvident" nature of African Americans, as Miller claims, but came about because African Americans were a poor population denied access to what meager public health facilities existed in post-war North Carolina.

Works Consulted: Haley, John, Charles N. Hunter and Race Relations in North Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987), p. 100; and Powell, William S., ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991).

Michael Sistrom

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