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Book Displays: Equal Justice Initiative 2023: Oct

October's Topic - Segregation and Health

The African American ward at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, 1944

Calendar photo caption: The African American ward at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, 1944. (Jerry Cooke/Getty Images)

Calendar Text

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, states in the South passed laws to enforce the strict boundaries of a legalized racial caste system, including during the provision of health services.

In 1915, Alabama prohibited "white female nurses" from working "in wards or rooms in hospitals, either public or private in which negro men are placed for treatment, or to be nursed." While institutional barriers limited the number of Black people able to become doctors and nurses in Alabama, laws like this inflicted further harm by relegating Black patients to overcrowded, under-resourced basement wards in segregated hospitals and sometimes by denying them care altogether.

In 1931, Fisk University Dean Juliette Derricotte was driving three students to her parents' home in Atlanta when an older white man suddenly swerved and struck her car, causing to to overturn into a ditch. The nearby Hamilton Memorial Hospital in Dalton, Georgia, refused to admit Dean Derricotte and her student, Nina Johnson, who had suffered critical injuries. By the time a hospital in Chattanooga agreed to treat them, it was too late. Dean Derricotte died during the trip and Ms. Johnson died the next day.

The medical community has not meaningfully confronted its history of racial segregation and bias. As a result, Black American today are more likely to be uninsured than white Americans. Black infants have more than twice the mortality rate of white infants. A 2021 study found that Black women are five times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related cardiomyopathy and blood pressure disorders and more than twice as likely to die of hemorrhaging or embolisms.