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Colloquium Event: Black Geographies and Southern Psychiatric Space
November 13, 2020 @ 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm
By: Mab Segrest
The 170 years history of Georgia’s Asylum for Lunatics, Epileptics and Idiots (from 1842 to 2010) reveals how settler colonialism shaped state asylum psychiatry, embedding it with the racism it embedded haunts American psychiatry today, when 90% of state psychiatric beds are in jails and prisons. “Black Geographies” in particular emerged with particular force in these two thousand acres two miles outside of Milledgeville, Georgia — the state capital from 1804 to 1868. Before freedpeople were admitted in 1867, Georgia legislators had already forced Muscogee and Cherokee west on Trails of Tears and oversaw the emergence of a Cotton Plantation economy in the 1830s. Because psychiatry originated with a theory of asylum space as “moral therapy,” its very geography (location and architecture) was
designed to restore the mind to rationality. This “moral therapy,” designed for 300 patients, went considerably awry as overcrowded state asylums began to tip patient loads in the thousands even before African American patients began to enter from Freedmen’s Bureau Hospitals in 1867. Unlike North Carolina, Georgia kept Black patients in its burgeoning population but segregated in the Colored Building, which grew in overcrowded proportion to the patient load as TB spread. By the turn of the 20th century, these historic forces had triangulated the asylum with the prison (convict lease) and the plantation (patients growing cotton) in a fiercely segregated space that allocated its goods to patients by raced and gendered hierarchies. The new century brought an upsurge of epidemics inside the Georgia Sanitarium. At the same time, its Supt TO Powell blamed the patient/inmates for their moral failings in spite of the multiple public health crises he administered. His rationales and practices helped to pave the way for US eugenics. This view from the Georgia Asylum bolsters abolitionist practices and sheds a bit of light on the “Bedlam” we are experiencing today.
Note 1: Please follow this link to register for this event. https://geography.unc.edu/private-forms/geography-colloquium-registration/ . The event zoom link will be emailed to you. Thanks.