Infectious Fear: Politics, Disease, and the Health Effects of Segregation

By Sze, Julie | The Journal of African American History, Summer-Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Infectious Fear: Politics, Disease, and the Health Effects of Segregation


Sze, Julie, The Journal of African American History


Samuel Kelton Roberts, Jr., Infectious Fear: Politics, Disease, and the Health Effects of Segregation. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009. Pp. 328. Paper $24.95. Cloth $59.95.

Samuel K. Roberts's Infectious Fear investigates the racial politics of tuberculosis, primarily in the Progressive Era, and its legacy on health and urban policy throughout the 20th century. For the first half of the century, tuberculosis was one of the top three causes of black mortality in urban areas (it caused 15 percent of black deaths in 1900). African Americans had higher rates of tuberculosis than whites, and it was generally more deadly, especially for children. Roberts's central argument is that "integral to the project of modern urban public health were theoretical and practical compromises that moved the politics of black health from absolute neglect to qualified inclusion based on specific notions of care, expertise, public utility, citizenship, social control, and responsibility." Tuberculosis is also particularly useful in illustrating the racial construction of disease historically and the medicalization of race. Roberts quotes from W. E. B. Du Bois's pathbreaking work, The Philadelphia Negro (1899) on the so-called racial nature of tuberculosis: "Particularly with regard to consumption, it must be remembered that Negroes are not the first people who have been claimed as its peculiar victims; the Irish were once thought to be doomed by that disease--but that was when Irishmen were unpopular."

In Infectious Fear Roberts focuses on the complex politics and negotiations around tuberculosis control and care--between individuals and institutions, the black and white populations, politicians and health experts. Situating his study in Baltimore, a "border city" and a major center of black life, Roberts makes compelling interventions in the historiographies of public health and the African American urban experience. Drawing on a wide range of material from government and charity investigations of tuberculosis to the health and medical literature and case studies of individual consumptives, Roberts effectively situates the politics of tuberculosis in its appropriate historical and geographic contexts. Individual chapters on the historical epidemiology of tuberculosis, racial science, the urban landscape of health, political and economic geography of the disease, surveillance politics, and the focus on the "incorrigible consumptive" effectively build Roberts's case for the centrality of tuberculosis to understanding the politics of black life in 20th-century Baltimore.

In 1896 the Baltimore City Council passed the nation's first statute mandating tuberculosis reporting. Moreover, Baltimore was also the nation's early leader in residential segregation ordinances. These firsts are not unrelated. As Roberts points out, the last decades of incurable tuberculosis coincided with the first decades of federal housing and urban renewal policy that exacerbated racial segregation. More than just a coincidence, the uses and abuses of the language of science regarding tubercular infection saturated the political discourse around "housing blight" and its containment, resulting in the wholesale destruction of black neighborhoods by mid-century, or what Roberts calls the "triumph of infectious fear."

A historian of medicine at Columbia University Medical School, Roberts builds his arguments through an exhaustive study of the primary and secondary literature and draws on the work of Vanessa Gamble, Keith Wailoo, and other pioneering historians of African American health and social work. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Infectious Fear: Politics, Disease, and the Health Effects of Segregation
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.