Confronting the History of a Southern Asylum: An Interview With Mab SegrestHistorians in the News
tags: racism, mental health, Georgia, interview, medical history
Race and racism have played a particularly significant role in the development of modern medicine, from the notorious Tuskegee syphilis experiments to the creation of the first immortal human cell line “HeLa”. In many ways, the influence of racism on American medicine has shaped approaches to bioethics and healthcare, continuing to inform the challenges patients and providers face today.
In Administrations of Lunacy: Racism and the Haunting of American Psychiatry at the Milledgeville Asylum, published in April 2020 by The New Press, Mab Segrest, PhD, uncovers the harrowing story of the Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum. Dr Segrest, Fuller-Maathai Professor Emeritus of Gender and Women’s Studies at Connecticut College, New London, traces the history of this institution through the Civil War to the post-Jim Crow era, centering the narrative around the voices of its former patients.
For mental health professionals, Administrations of Lunacy offers a critical exploration of psychiatry’s historic links to key moments in American history by focusing on an asylum that was the largest in the world in the mid-20th century. To learn more about this history, we spoke with the author about her book. The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.