ARRK – Sept 2022 Discussion

ARRK Sept 2022 Discussion

Participants restricted to Kalamazoo College Faculty, Staff, Students, and Administration

4:10 p.m. ET on Tuesday, September 20th
ARRK Meeting Space (MS Teams)

Welcome back! Join us tomorrow, Tuesday, September 20th in the ARRK Meeting Space for the first discussion of the academic year!

We will be discussing the Introduction to Reckoning : Kalamazoo College Uncovers Its Racial and Colonial Past (6 pages total) by Anne Dueweke and possibly applying some of the ideas from Justice at Work to look at K’s past and use our collective power to dismantle systems of oppression on campus.

Please note we are considering spending the year focusing on Reckoning; however, we would love your feedback on this layout. Please provide your answer through the ARRK anonymous survey


The AntiRacism Reading Knook (ARRK) is a collaboration between the K College library staff and our Inclusive Excellence (KCIE) leadership team. This initiative is NOT a book club, but seeks to facilitate campus-wide engagement with the books in the KCIE Reading for Change book collection. This collection was created to encourage learning about and facilitate greater access to antiracism information to all members of the campus community.

ARRK aims to:

  1. reduce barrier to entry into reading antiracism books,
  2. identify and highlight campus facilitators with experience teaching and/or disciplinary expertise who can provide context and guide discussions of specific texts,
  3. foster broader relationships among faculty and staff, and thus
  4. build greater capacity for an inclusive campus through sustained and focused engagement with shared texts.
  5. help catalyze members of the campus to engage in small group discussions of entire books in the collection (self-organized book clubs, if you will).

For further information on #ARRK see the KCIE AntiRacism Reading Knook page. To volunteer to lead one of these sessions complete the ARRK Discussion Leader application.

19: This Month in Black History – The State of Education of Black Folks in the USA

Black student and woman in tech working on her laptop.

The State of Education
of Black Folks
in the USA

by Dr. Regina Stevens-Truss, Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Director of the HHMI IE Grant

As we begin our school year and because of the landscape of higher education in the USA, I thought that a ‘feel good’ story was in line, albeit, I will add some caution to this.

The U.S. is doing better (said out of one side of my mouth) when it comes to educating the Black population. According to the 2020 US Census report “88% of Blacks have a high school diploma.” In that report they also state that ~90% of the U.S. population have graduated high school, putting the Black community in almost parity with the rest of the Nation. As a point of comparison, in 1940, only 7% of Blacks completed high school when the National average was 24%. Many credit this increase to the Compulsory Education Laws enacted by states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – Massachusetts was the first U.S. state to enact a compulsory education law in 1852. In a 2012 report that examined whether schooling laws matter, it was found that the “introduction of compulsory attendance laws had positive and statistically significant effects on schooling in states that passed laws after 1880.” This means that overtime then, the educational gap between Black students and the National average had closed to about 2%, as measured in 2019; at least at the high school level.

The college degree gap has also closed, but nowhere as tightly; in 2019, the gap between Blacks and the National average was 26% for college degree attainment. It is important to note that the vast majority of college degrees attained by Blacks before 1967 in the U.S. were from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). HBCUs were the only game in town in educating Blacks prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. To be clear, Blacks were “allowed” to attend White universities in northern states before the abolition of slavery. However, because of institutionalized racism and discrimination at these institutions, as well as the poor college preparation that Black students were afforded, their education was hampered. HBCUs were the predominant means of African American post-secondary education for about 100 years (from right after the Civil War to the Civil Rights era of the 1960’s). Before the establishment of the first HBCU in a southern state (Atlanta University – now Clark Atlanta University on September 19, 1865), there were four HBCUs established in northern states: Cheyney University of Pennsylvania in 1837, University of the District of Columbia in 1851 (then known as Miner School for Colored Girls), Lincoln University in 1854, and Wilberforce University in 1856. Atlanta University (Clark Atlanta University) was one of the first graduate institutions in the Nation to award degrees to African Americans, and the first to award bachelor’s degrees to African Americans in the south. According to Wikipedia, “HBCUs have a rich legacy of matriculating many leaders in the fields of business (Spike Lee, film director and producer – Morehouse), law (Thurgood Marshall, Supreme Court JusticeLincoln and Howard; featured in our 19 story in July 2020), science (Katherine Johnson, NASA mathematician – attended West Virginia State College, now West Virginia State), education (Booker T. Washington, educator, orator, and advisor – Hampton), military service (The Tuskegee Airmen were educated at Tuskegee University), entertainment (Oprah Winfrey, talk show host and media mogul – Tenn State), art (Erykah Badu singer, entrepreneur, and actress – Grambling State), and sports (Jerry Rice, considered the greatest NFL wide receiver of all-time – Mississippi Valley State).”

Despite their excellent track record of educating Blacks, HBCUs have struggled to stay open. Once predominantly white institutions committed to educating Black students and opened their doors during the Civil Rights Era, and because of the government’s affirmative action goals, enrollment at HBCUs began to drop. While the number of Black students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities increased by ~377% from 1966 to 1976, only 18% were enrolled in HBCUs; which dropped to only 9% in 2010. The reduced number of students attending HBCUs has also led to a decrease in the number of these institutions (from 121 in 1930 to 101 in 2019).

A possible shiny light for HBCUs – while in 2020 (the year when Black Lives Matter issues was heightened) the enrollment of Black and White students attending secondary institutions declined, however, some HBCUs experienced a surge in enrollment – Howard University, for example, increased 15 percent from 2019 to 2021. This could be a sign that Blacks are finding needed support at these institutions. Historically, HBCUs have been a pillar in the lives of many successful Blacks, offering an education that is unmatched by many of the Nation’s other institutions. For non-HBCU institutions to truly ensure access to students of color, these institutions (like K) have a duty to make sure that these students are supported in all the ways!

19: This Month in Black History – Juneteenth Culinary Traditions

by Drs. Fari Nzinga and Regina Stevens-Truss

Happy Juneteenth everyone! Today, everyone in the United States can enjoy a federally-recognized holiday in honor of Juneteenth, and many may have heard the story of its roots at least once – on June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, enslaved Africans in Texas were finally informed that they could claim their freedom. Imagine the joy and celebration, and the birth of Juneteenth (celebrated since 1865 by many Black people – you can re-read this Juneteenth story). By now then, you may know about the why behind the holiday, so this final story of the 2021-22 school year will focus on some of the how to celebrate Juneteenth – the culinary traditions.

As in most cultures around the world, Black people typically celebrate with and gather around food. Red-colored foods and drinks are of primary significance to the culture. Culinary historian and chef, Michael Twitty, discusses in Oprah Daily (The Traditional Foods of Juneteenth Carry a Rich History, Dating Back Centuries), “Texas was at the end of the world to the Antebellum South. There were a lot of enslaved Africans who were coming to Texas from the continent and through the Caribbean. The color red is highly associated with the cultures that would’ve come through the later years of the trade, which would have been Yoruba and Kongo.” Twitty also writes in his blog, Afroculinaria, “enslavement narratives from Texas recall an African ancestor being lured using red flannel cloth, and many of the charms and power objects used to manipulate invisible forces required a red handkerchief” (Juneteenth, A Culinary History Part 1).

The places where many newly-imported African laborers passed through, cultural and culinary traditions were carried along and continue to manifest. For example, Dr. Fred Opie, makes the connection that West African peoples like the Asante, Yoruba and Kongo among others, marked special occasions with the offering of sacrifices, especially the red blood of white birds and goats.

Soul Food Scholar Adrian E. Miller has further traced red drinks served at Juneteenth celebrations to the fruits of two native West African plants: the kola nut and the hibiscus flower. The kola nut, typically white or red, was and still is served to guests throughout West and Central Africa as a snack to chew, used as a water purifier, or steeped for tea. The flowers of the hibiscus, too, are often stewed to make a reddish-purple, tartly-sweet tea called sorrel or bissap.

A traditional Juneteenth spread consists of barbeque and red foods: tables lined with bbq chicken, hot links, watermelon, hibiscus tea, and, more recently, strawberry soda and red velvet cake. In addition to the cultural and spiritual meanings behind the red-colored foods, the color red symbolizes not only the bloodshed of enslaved people who never tasted freedom, but the resilience of all Black people in the face of continued oppression. Sides like cabbage, collard, turnip or mustard greens, and black-eyed peas are typically served as well. Often called prosperity dishes and eaten during the new year, black-eyed peas are said to bring luck and greens and cabbage, of course, money and abundance.

However you choose to celebrate Juneteenth, the point is to place one’s experience within a larger, historical context; to connect with family and cultural traditions, and to realize one’s own definition of freedom. This June, and in the many to come, take a moment to reflect and honor those who have demonstrated resistance to oppression (check out the Freedom Lifted “6 Ways to Resist” exercise by Mia Henry).

As Adrian Miller so eloquently puts it: “I think about all of those Emancipation celebrations, church suppers, family reunions and other occasions when people got together to celebrate, renew family ties and friendships, and affirm their humanity.” Chew on that.

Again this year, these monthly Black History stories have been brought to you by the ACSJL and the HHMI Inclusive Excellence team, and are aimed at educating the K community on African-American history and culture as we continue to work towards being an anti-racist Institution. The number 19 marks multiple important dates in the lives of Blacks in the USA – 1619 being the year in which the first set of African slaves were brought to what would become the United States, and June 19, 1865, marking the day that Blacks celebrate the end of enslavement in the US.

We need to know our history, we need to teach our history, we need to remember our history.

Would you like to contribute a story?

Anyone can contribute a 19 story. Contact Regina Stevens-Truss at Regina.Stevens-Rruss@kzoo.edu for information on how to get started!

ARRK – June 2022 Discussion

ARRK June 2022 Discussion with Robert Mowry

Participants restricted to Kalamazoo College Faculty, Staff, Students, and Administration

A continuing celebration of Black Joy by exploring the influence and creation of techno music.

4:10 p.m. on Tuesday, June 14th
ARRK Meeting Space (MS Teams)
Discussion Leader: Robert Mowry

To continue the celebration of Black Joy, we will consider Black contributions to musical joy by focusing on the style of dance music commonly called techno. Most people associate African American musical history with spirituals, jazz, blues, gospel, and hip hop. Techno is an electronic music style first developed in Detroit in the eighties. Since its origin, Detroit techno and its creators have become global phenomena, but remain underappreciated in the U.S.

As preparation, please check out one of Rob Mowry’s playlists:

As part of the discussion, please share and talk about your favorite track from one of these playlists and how it gives you joy.


The AntiRacism Reading Knook (ARRK) is a collaboration between the K College library staff and our Inclusive Excellence (KCIE) leadership team. This initiative is NOT a book club, but seeks to facilitate campus-wide engagement with the books in the KCIE Reading for Change book collection. This collection was created to encourage learning about and facilitate greater access to antiracism information to all members of the campus community.

ARRK aims to:

  1. reduce barrier to entry into reading antiracism books,
  2. identify and highlight campus facilitators with experience teaching and/or disciplinary expertise who can provide context and guide discussions of specific texts,
  3. foster broader relationships among faculty and staff, and thus
  4. build greater capacity for an inclusive campus through sustained and focused engagement with shared texts.
  5. help catalyze members of the campus to engage in small group discussions of entire books in the collection (self-organized book clubs, if you will).

For further information on #ARRK see the KCIE AntiRacism Reading Knook page. To volunteer to lead one of these sessions complete the ARRK Discussion Leader application.

19: This Month in Black History – Asian & African American Solidarity

Protest sign reading "Together and Stronger."

by Dr. Fari Nzinga (editorial support from Dr. Regina Stevens-Truss)

In honor of Asian American heritage month (May 1-31st), we are going to look at some of the moments where Asian American and African American histories connect and overlap.

The first Asian immigrants arrived in the 19th century. They were Filipino sailors who came to the shores of the so-called “New World” aboard Spanish ships in the 16th century. Some of these Filipino sailors survived pirates and shipwrecks to settle in parts of colonial Mexico and Louisiana, and, while there, some joined maroon societies comprised of Indigenous people, Africans and European deserters.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, large numbers of Chinese, Indian, Korean, and Japanese men travelled across the globe to toil on large industrial plantations in the British West Indies, Hawaii, and the U.S. Deep South as indentured laborers. Pejoratively called “coolies,” countless men and many women were taken advantage of and lured with promises of economic prosperity by contractors and agents, only to work over ten hours a day, six days a week, for five or more years before gaining their freedom. During this time Asian Americans were being forced into the bottom of the white supremacist racial hierarchy, working closely with Africans both enslaved and free; and upon emancipation, Asian mobility and labor power were weaponized against newly emancipated Africans in order to keep wages low and profits high. While racial animus was sewn to ensure competition, there were also new opportunities to cultivate Afro-Asian relationships and build political alliances.

It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that Asian immigrants would begin to migrate in their greatest numbers to the U.S. When gold was “discovered” by white settlers in California in 1848, word quickly got out, spawning the California Gold Rush (and providing the reference for the present-day NFL team the San Francisco ‘49ers). The Gold Rush sped up the process of colonization, kept up the momentum of U.S. expansionism and, later, so-called Manifest Destiny, attracting entrepreneurs and cut-throat capitalists alike.

At the same time, many Chinese laborers migrated by the thousands to California. While many had come in hopes of striking rich, the majority found work laying track for the Pacific/Transcontinental Railroad between 1863 – 1869. Comprising the vast majority of railroad workers on the Western routes, Chinese immigrants were paid to physically clear Indigenous homelands in order to connect the distant colony of California to industrial centers in the East Coast and Midwest, thereby consolidating the U.S. continental empire. As railroad towns began to proliferate, Chinese merchants followed the construction boom. Before, during and after the transcontinental railroad’s construction thousands of enslaved and then freedmen also worked on the railroads grading lines, building bridges, and blasting tunnels. Often paid the least to do the most undesirable jobs, both Black and Asian workers survived brutal conditions of economic exploitation and racial violence.

In the wake of the devastation of the Civil War, as the nation scrambled to rebuild, the United States and China negotiated the Treaty of Trade, Consuls, and Emigration, known as the Burlingame Treaty in 1868, which established a reciprocal relationship for the movement of people and goods between the two countries. But that didn’t stop white settlers from discriminating against Asian immigrants, seizing their property, and perpetrating cowardly acts of violence and intimidation. In his speech “Our Composite Nation,” delivered in Boston in 1869, powerful orator and statesman, Frederick Douglass, condemned anti-Asian racism:

Men differ widely as to the magnitude of this potential Chinese immigration. The fact that by the late treaty with China, we bind ourselves to receive immigrants from that country only as the subjects of the Emperor, and by the construction, at least, are bound not to [naturalize] them, and the further fact that Chinamen themselves have a superstitious devotion to their country and an aversion to permanent location in any other, contracting even to have their bones carried back, should they die abroad, and from the fact that many have returned to China, and the still more stubborn [fact] that resistance to their coming has increased rather than diminished, it is inferred that we shall never have a large Chinese population in America. This however is not my opinion.

[…] Already has the matter taken this shape in California and on the Pacific Coast generally. Already has California assumed a bitterly unfriendly attitude toward the Chinamen. Already has she driven them from her altars of justice. Already has she stamped them as outcasts and handed them over to popular contempt and vulgar jest. Already are they the constant victims of cruel harshness and brutal violence. Already have our Celtic brothers, never slow to execute the behests of popular prejudice against the weak and defenseless, recognized in the heads of these people, fit targets for their shilalahs. Already, too, are their associations formed in avowed hostility to the Chinese.

[…] I have said that the Chinese will come, and have given some reasons why we may expect them in very large numbers in no very distant future. Do you ask, if I favor such immigration, I answer I would. Would you have them naturalized, and have them invested with all the rights of American citizenship? I would. Would you allow them to vote? I would. Would you allow them to hold office? I would.

Frederick Douglass

A short-lived treaty, it didn’t last long before white settlers began to discriminate against and harass Asian immigrants, chasing them out of the West Coast through the twin prongs of violence and legislation. By 1882, not even twenty years later, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, placing the first restrictions on immigration in U.S. history. The law specifically sought to eliminate Chinese immigration.

At a time when white supremacist policies, laws and ideologies are precipitating near-constant racial violence against Black and Asian communities, it is important to learn from those moments in history when these groups labored together and (sometimes) stood in solidarity.

Get Involved and Support

To learn more about how you might get involved in supporting contemporary solidarity and coalition-building work, check out The Cross Cultural Solidarity History Project’s resource on Black/Asian solidarity.

And just for fun and maybe to occupy the summer months, here are some titles to peruse:

  • Lee, Erika. The Making of Asian America: A History. 2016.
  • Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. 1998.
  • Yun, Lisa. The Coolie Speaks: Chinese Indentured Laborers and African Slaves in Cuba. 2008.

ARRK – May 2022 Discussion

ARRK May 2022 Discussion with Anne Dueweke

Participants restricted to Kalamazoo College Faculty, Staff, Students, and Administration

A discussion of Anne Dueweke’s book, Reckoning: Kalamazoo College Uncovers its Racial and Colonial Past

4:10 p.m. on Tuesday, May 17th
ARRK Meeting Space (MS Teams)
Discussion Leader: Anne Dueweke

Please join Anne Dueweke for a discussion of her book Reckoning: Kalamazoo College Uncovers its Racial and Colonial Past. In preparation for discussion, please read Chapter Five: “There Is No Innocence.” You can access the eBook chapter through this post or through the ARRK Meeting Space.


The AntiRacism Reading Knook (ARRK) is a collaboration between the K College library staff and our Inclusive Excellence (KCIE) leadership team. This initiative is NOT a book club, but seeks to facilitate campus-wide engagement with the books in the KCIE Reading for Change book collection. This collection was created to encourage learning about and facilitate greater access to antiracism information to all members of the campus community.

ARRK aims to:

  1. reduce barrier to entry into reading antiracism books,
  2. identify and highlight campus facilitators with experience teaching and/or disciplinary expertise who can provide context and guide discussions of specific texts,
  3. foster broader relationships among faculty and staff, and thus
  4. build greater capacity for an inclusive campus through sustained and focused engagement with shared texts.
  5. help catalyze members of the campus to engage in small group discussions of entire books in the collection (self-organized book clubs, if you will).

For further information on #ARRK see the KCIE AntiRacism Reading Knook page. To volunteer to lead one of these sessions complete the ARRK Discussion Leader application.

19: This Month in Black History – Accepting Tom Wiggins and #autisticblackpride

Accepting Tom Wiggins and #autisticblackpride

By Katrina Naoko Frank, an #actuallyautistic Afro-Asian Indigenous Latina (editorial support from Dr. Fari Nzinga)

Black Autistic Awareness

With April marking Autism Acceptance month, take a moment to clear your mind. When you hear the word “autism” what do you think of?

For many, the image of a thin, white, male–usually with a short haircut, blank expression and dry humor comes to mind. Looking past the American “ideal” of autism, autistic folks are as diverse in race, intellect, emotional intelligence, and ability, as any other group. We are Black, we are Latinx, we are Indigenous, we are Asian. We are of all gender identities and economic status–we are not a monolith.

And in fact, this month’s 19 story proves just that, by highlighting Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins, a renowned Black, blind, autistic musical mastermind of the mid-19th century.

What is Autism?

For those unaware, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is defined as “a complex developmental condition involving persistent challenges with social communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behavior.” People with ASD have brains and neurosystems that work differently which is why we use the term “neurodivergent” to describe them. And just like with human sexuality, ASD exists on a spectrum with various outward manifestations.

A famous Autistic American from the annals of history, Thomas Wiggins was classified as “idiotic,” a medical term used at the time to describe “a person with profound intellectual disability.” It has been documented that Wiggins was “mostly non-speaking and used sounds and body language to communicate with others [he] rocked, twitched, and echoed people around him.” Based on his method of communication and his musical genius current historians “believe that Wiggins was an autistic savant” (NOSmag.org, Blind Tom Wiggins: Black Neurodivergent Excellence).

Tom Wiggins AKA “Blind Tom”

Thomas Greene Wiggins, known as “Blind Tom” was born into slavery on May 25, 1849 in Columbus, Georgia to Charity and Domingo Wiggins. As an infant Tom and his family came under the enslaver, General James Bethune, a Columbus lawyer that both fostered Tom’s gift and exploited him for his own gain.

There have been many accounts of Tom mimicking the sounds around him without error as a toddler. Around the age of eight, “Tom was licensed out to a traveling showman named Perry Oliver who promoted him as a barnum-styled freak” along with many other outlandish descriptors (Who Was Blind Tom?). By age eleven he was the first African American artist to perform at the White House while at age fifteen Wiggins “composed his most famous piece ‘The Battle of Manassas,’ a song evoking the sounds of battle interspersed with train sounds and whistles, which [he] made himself” (New Georgia Encyclopedia, Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins).

Although Tom was considered an international celebrity, he was both oppressed and taken advantage of. Not only was his neurodivergence used as a ploy to collect more money during his travels, but his musical talents, and his nontraditional way of interacting with others would keep him enslaved under the Bethune family even after emancipation during the Civil War.

Tom Greene Wiggins was unique, intelligent, empathetic, and resilient. To share Finn Gardiner’s sentiment in his article “Blind Tom Wiggins: Black Neurodivergent Excellence,”

“[…] we can still look to [Tom] as an example of black neurodivergent excellence. His deep connection to the world around him and his remarkable musical ability led him to create music that resonated within his own soul and the souls of others. We must remember, too, that the talents of black neurodivergent people should be nurtured without exploitation. We belong to ourselves. Tom Wiggins may not have had this freedom, but we can claim our own freedom today.”

Black and Autistic

Although we are working towards a better, more inclusive and socially just world, there are still specific stereotypes and stigmas that are hurting and killing autistic Black, Indigenous and other people of color (Elijah McClain and Osaze Osagie). For instance, in research unveiling the correlation between late diagnosis for Black children and provider racial bias, “Black children usually obtain a diagnosis for autism one and a half years later than white children.” Due to this delay, Black autistic children are being disadvantaged from the beginning. To create positive change in both autistic and neurotypical communities it is imperative that we honor and share the stories of Black autistic individuals, identify and openly discuss their challenges as well as their triumphs.

#AutisticBlackPride

Want to learn more? Listed below are a handful of extraordinary Black autistic people and Black leaders based in the autistic community:

ARRK – April 2022 Discussion

ARRK April 2022 Discussion with Lisa Murphy and Robin Rank

Participants restricted to Kalamazoo College Faculty, Staff, Students, and Administration

A discussion of blackface, both K’s past and in the present-day in the form of digital blackface

4:10 p.m. on Tuesday, April 19th
ARRK Meeting Space (MS Teams)
Discussion Leaders: Lisa Murphy and Robin Rank

Lisa Murphy and Robin Rank will be leading the April ARRK discussion of blackface, both K’s past and in the present-day form of digital blackface. In preparation for the discussion, please consider viewing the College archive collection “Minstrel Shows, Vaudeville, and Other Blackface Performances” and read Dr. Lauren Michele Jackson’s essay for Teen Vogue, “We Need to Talk About Digital Blackface in Reaction GIFs” that popularized the usage of the term.


The AntiRacism Reading Knook (ARRK) is a collaboration between the K College library staff and our Inclusive Excellence (KCIE) leadership team. This initiative is NOT a book club, but seeks to facilitate campus-wide engagement with the books in the KCIE Reading for Change book collection. This collection was created to encourage learning about and facilitate greater access to antiracism information to all members of the campus community.

ARRK aims to:

  1. reduce barrier to entry into reading antiracism books,
  2. identify and highlight campus facilitators with experience teaching and/or disciplinary expertise who can provide context and guide discussions of specific texts,
  3. foster broader relationships among faculty and staff, and thus
  4. build greater capacity for an inclusive campus through sustained and focused engagement with shared texts.
  5. help catalyze members of the campus to engage in small group discussions of entire books in the collection (self-organized book clubs, if you will).

For further information on #ARRK see the KCIE AntiRacism Reading Knook page. To volunteer to lead one of these sessions complete the ARRK Discussion Leader application.

19: This Month in Black History – Medical Injustices in the History of Black Americans

Medical Injustices in the History of Black Americans

Written by Dr. Fari Nzinga and Dr. Regina Stevens-Truss


Happy Black History Month has been said in the USA since 1970. During the month of February, we celebrate the achievements of Black people and honor historical pioneers. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, several institutions have honored Black Pioneers in Medicine during February Black History Month Celebrations (see these Black medical pioneers). In 2022 Kalamazoo College has joined in these celebrations (ARRK event on Feb 15, Henrietta Lacks event on Feb 17, and this Feb 19 Black History story).

Throughout American history however, “Black people have endured a medical system that has been simultaneously exploitative and dismissive. And the damaging implicit and explicit biases present in our medical system do not suddenly vanish because we are in the middle of a pandemic. In fact, the pandemic has made them impossible to ignore” (referenced from Vox article, how medical bias against black people is shaping Covid-19 treatment and care).

To understand why it is that during a global pandemic so many Black Americans are distrustful of the medical authorities and are hesitant to get vaccinated, one needs to look back at history.

The next two stories adapted from the Annals of American Medical History are but two examples of medical malpractice towards Black people that may help shed light on some of the roots of a bigger problem.

Many of us may have heard of the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male (discussed later in this piece) but we may not have heard the story of Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy before.

1840s – Montgomery, Alabama

Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy, considered the Mothers of Modern Gynecology according to Women & the American Story, were three enslaved women who lived and worked on different plantations near Montgomery, Alabama, in the 1840s (referenced from Life Story: Anarcha, Betsy and Lucy-The Mothers of Modern Gynecology). After giving birth, these three women developed a painful medical condition that caused them to lose control of their bladders and bowels. At that time, enslaved women with this condition were separated from other slave workers as there was no treatment for the condition. These women’s frustrated slave owners wanted a cure, so that the women would be able to resume their hard labor to earn them money. Dr. J. Marion Sims caught the interest of these women’s slave owners, as he and others in the 1800s were very interested in medical advancement and experimentation. Dr. Sims, while attempting to treat and cure Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy, leased them for the duration of their treatment, ensuring his complete control over their bodies. Between medical procedures and experiments, the women worked for the Sims family, and for 5 years, Dr. Sims would operate on Anarcha, Betsy, Lucy and other women in rooms crowded with doctors who had traveled for miles to observe the details of his procedures. These women were naked and in chains while on the operating table. Dr. Sims did not use anesthesia in his many procedures, partly because doctors feared the potentially fatal side-effects of anesthesia, and partly because it was commonly believed that Black women did not experience pain the same way white women did (this belief, BTW, still makes its way into medical practices today). Many of his medical experiments ended up being failures, causing his white male assistants to quit. Undeterred, Dr. Sims trained Anarcha, Betsy, Lucy to be his assistants. In time, they became skilled medical practitioners in their own right, caring for each other and others during their recoveries. Finally, after enduring over 30 painful and humiliating surgeries, Anarcha, Betsy and Lucy were returned to their enslavers to continue to toil on their plantations. The exploitation of Black women did not end with the Civil War, nor with emancipation. With the lens of 2022, one could imagine that this story could only happen during slavery…

Almost 100 years later, 1930s – Tuskegee, Alabama

In 1932 at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, Black men in Macon County were targeted for research. The “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” (now referred to as the “USPHS Syphilis Study at Tuskegee”) was a study conducted for a little over 40 years (1932-1972) by the United States Public Health Service (see Racism and Research: The Case of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and the Ted Talk, Ugly History: The U.S. Syphilis Experiment by Susan M. Reverby). The study initially involved 600 Black men – 399 who had syphilis and 201 who did not have the disease. Researchers told the men that they were being treated for “bad blood,” a local term used to describe several ailments, including syphilis, anemia, and fatigue. During their “treatment” and “free medical exams” sessions the men were provided free meals as an incentive, but they were subjected to painful procedures. Researchers wanted to understand the course of the disease (which ends in death and causes severe organ damage along the way), as well as whether the disease manifested differently in Blacks and Whites. During the course of the 40 years, many of the 600 subjects died and they were provided and promised burial insurance. Although treatment was the promise, the reality was that the men received no treatment at all. And even after penicillin was discovered as a safe and reliable cure for syphilis in 1943, the majority of the Tuskegee patients did not receive it – in fact, they were banned from receiving this treatment as a way to continue the study.

On July 25, 1972, Associated Press reporter Jean Heller broke news about the study (see article, Black men untreated in Tuskegee Syphilis Study) that severely damaged public trust in the American medical establishment. As a result, the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs appointed an Ad Hoc Advisory Panel to review the study. The advisory panel concluded that the study was “ethically unjustified and advised stopping the study.” A month later, the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs announced the end of the study (see the Memorandum Terminating the Tuskegee Syphilis Study). The following year, in March 1973, the panel also advised the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) (now known as the Department of Health and Human Services) to instruct the USPHS to provide all necessary medical care for the survivors of the study. The Tuskegee Health Benefit Program (THBP) was established to provide these services. At the same time, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the study participants and their families, resulting in a $10 million, out-of-court settlement in 1974. In 1975, participants’ wives, widows and children were added to the program. In 1995, the program was expanded to include health, as well as medical, benefits. The last study participant died in January 2004. The last widow receiving THBP benefits died in January 2009. Participants’ children (10 as of 2021) continue to receive medical and health benefits and continue to fight for justice.

Almost 90 years after the start of the Tuskegee Study and 49 years (1973) after these men and their families were provided medical benefits, many Black Americans have poorer health outcomes than their White counterparts in part due to racist thinking and policies that prevail in our society. Despite major advances in obstetrics and gynecology, Black women still suffer higher rates of maternal mortality in the United States. Black patients continue to receive less pain medication for a myriad of conditions including broken bones and cancer, and Black children receive less pain medication than white children for conditions such as appendicitis – still today, some medical practitioners inaccurately believe that Black people experience less pain than other human beings. It’s no wonder that Black people distrust “science” and the medical establishment!

Honoring Black Medical Pioneers

Let’s continue to honor medical pioneers, but most importantly
let us work on equalizing how every member of society is treated.

Continue to Celebrate Black History Month…

Check out these further readings:

  • HOBERMAN, JOHN. “Why Bioethics Has a Race Problem.” The Hastings Center Report, vol. 46, no. 2, [The Hastings Center, Wiley], 2016, pp. 12–18, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44159426.
  • Sirleaf, Matiangai. “DISPOSABLE LIVES: COVID-19, VACCINES, AND THE UPRISING.” Columbia Law Review, vol. 121, no. 5, Columbia Law Review Association, Inc., 2021, pp. 71–94, https://www.jstor.org/stable/27033038.

Would you like to contribute a story?

Anyone can contribute a 19 story. Contact Regina Stevens-Truss at Regina.Stevens-Rruss@kzoo.edu for information on how to get started!

ARRK – February 2022 Discussion

ARRK February 2022 Discussion with Alison Geist and Regina Stevens-Truss

Participants restricted to Kalamazoo College Faculty, Staff, Students, and Administration

A discussion on structural and systemic racism as social determinants of health and disease

4:10 p.m. on Tuesday, February 15th
ARRK Meeting space (MS Teams)
Discussion Leaders: Alison Geist and Regina Stevens-Truss


The AntiRacism Reading Knook (ARRK) is a collaboration between the K College library staff and our Inclusive Excellence (KCIE) leadership team. This initiative is NOT a book club, but seeks to facilitate campus-wide engagement with the books in the KCIE Reading for Change book collection. This collection was created to encourage learning about and facilitate greater access to antiracism information to all members of the campus community.

ARRK aims to:

  1. reduce barrier to entry into reading antiracism books,
  2. identify and highlight campus facilitators with experience teaching and/or disciplinary expertise who can provide context and guide discussions of specific texts,
  3. foster broader relationships among faculty and staff, and thus
  4. build greater capacity for an inclusive campus through sustained and focused engagement with shared texts.
  5. help catalyze members of the campus to engage in small group discussions of entire books in the collection (self-organized book clubs, if you will).

For further information on #ARRK see the KCIE AntiRacism Reading Knook page. To volunteer to lead one of these sessions complete the ARRK Discussion Leader application.