Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Black Women's Health Activism in America, 1890-1950

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Black Women's Health Activism in America, 1890-1950

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Black Women's Health Activism in America, 1890-1950

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Black Women's Health Activism in America, 1890-1950

Synopsis

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired moves beyond the depiction of African Americans as mere recipients of aid or as victims of neglect and highlights the ways black health activists created public health programs and influenced public policy at every opportunity. Smith also sheds new light on the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment by situating it within the context of black public health activity, reminding us that public health work had oppressive as well as progressive consequences.

Excerpt

Black health activism in the United States emerged at a time when the American welfare state was expanding and black rights were decreasing. From 1890 to 1950, a period of legalized segregation, many African Americans saw their struggle for improved health conditions as part of a political agenda for black rights, especially the right to equal access to government resources. Although it was difficult for a group with little influence on government to affect public policy, black activists struggled to draw federal attention to black health issues. They tried to make the health needs of black America a legitimate political concern for the nation. With great caution they entered the debate on the role of the state in the care of its citizens.

Black health reform was gendered to the extent that men held most of the formal leadership positions and women did most of the grassroots organizing. Much like the black civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, "men led, but women organized." Black men played an important role in the black health movement as doctors, ministers, journalists, businessmen, and educators. Yet, men's leadership often came and went, while women's grassroots activity persisted.

Indeed, there is a continuous, unbroken line of black women's health activism since at least the 1890s. Black female professionals and community leaders formed the backbone of the black health movement and were central to the founding and maintenance of black public health projects. They implemented health reform measures at the local level and thus translated health policy into health programs. Furthermore, black women were the primary targets of black public health work because of their influence on the physical and moral health of their families.

The history of black women's health activism demonstrates the ongoing contributions of laywomen to public health work. Despite the increasing involvement of white, and some black, health professionals and government officials in health and welfare work after 1930, much of the history of black health work is the history of layworkers. Laywomen played a key role . . .

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