Colorblind: The Sins of Our Past

August 22, 2017 | Chakir’ Underdown, 2017 AAPD Summer Intern

The crumbling remains of the Crownsville State Hospital, 22 miles south of Baltimore, sit atop coveted real estate. Developers have placed bids on the land to transform the location into various structures, from a parking site to a shopping center. However, another struggle is connected to this site, which was first known as the Maryland Hospital for the Negro Insane. This was one of many segregated institutions around the nation and a dark mark in the history of mental healthcare and black history. Some research on Crownsville focuses on the atrocities against black patients, while other research sheds light on the disparate treatment of mental health patients during the era of institutionalized care. I do not author this post in order to critique the credibility of either perspective, because both discourses are important.

The erasure of offensive and discriminatory history is not a novel concept in the tapestry of the United States. If the history of Crownsville is not shared, we risk enabling ignorance towards the treatment of mental health patients and people of color. Eugenics and “separate but equal” cultures still exist today, so our work as advocates is not finished. Educating the general public on this history, and demanding its incorporation into school curriculum, honors and respects the memory of a challenging and emotive past. We can not allow assumptions of a post-racial society or the golden age of the ADA generation to preclude sharing of vital historic accounts.

Interview with Paul Lurz, Crownsville State Hospital

I would like to thank Paul Lurz for agreeing to speak with me about Crownsville’s history. Paul worked at the hospital for 40 years, and he and others work to preserve the stories and memories of the institution. I also credit Vanessa Jackson, LCSW, for her paper “Separate and Unequal,” and Zosha Stuckey for her work “Race, Apology, and Public Memory at Maryland’s Hospital for the ‘Negro’ Insane,” published in the Disability Studies Quarterly. Please also see Disability Incarcerated, edited by L. Ben-Moshe, C. Chapman, and A. Carey. Finally, thank you to Janice Hayes-Williams, a historian and columnist who also works to preserve the memory of the lives lost at Crownsville.


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Chakir’ Underdown is a 2017 AAPD Summer Intern placed with the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN). This post originally appeared on Chakir’s blog, Kinky Summer, on August 6, 2017.


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