Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson

Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson

Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson

Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson

Synopsis

Junius Wilson (1908-2001) spent 76 years at a state mental hospital in Goldsboro, North Carolina, including 6 in the criminal ward. He had never been declared insane by a medical professional or found guilty of any criminal charge. But he was deaf and black in the Jim Crow South. Unspeakable is the story of his life. In addition to offering a bottom-up history of life in a segregated mental institution, Burch and Joyner's biography also enriches the traditional interpretation of Jim Crow by highlighting the complicated intersections of race and disability as well as of community and language.

Excerpt

In 1990 JOHN WASSON of North Carolina’s New Hanover County Department of Social Services was appointed guardian of Junius Wilson, an elderly African American patient at a mental institution in the town of Goldsboro. The patient’s records revealed the story of a deaf man accused in 1925 of the attempted rape of a relative, found insane at a lunacy hearing, committed to the criminal ward of the State Hospital for the Colored Insane, and surgically castrated. Sixty-five years later, Wilson was still an inmate of the same hospital. Wasson was shocked when he discovered after reading the file and talking to staff that Junius Wilson was not insane.

J. Field Montgomery, director of Cherry Hospital in the 1990s, admitted that the institution had known at least since the early 1960s that the deaf man was not mentally ill. As Montgomery said, “You didn’t have to be insane to be committed back then.” The hospital also had evidence that the charges against Wilson had been dropped by 1970, which meant that he was no longer required to be incarcerated at Cherry Hospital. In spite of these revelations, the Goldsboro institution held Wilson for more than twenty additional years on the grounds that it was the most benevolent course of action. Junius Wilson had been incarcerated in an insane asylum merely because he was deaf and black; bureaucratic inertia and staff paternalism helped keep him there for sixty-five years.

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