Bodies Found Buried Beneath University of Mississippi Medical Center: Mental Health Plight akin to Racial Discrimination

In Medical Apartheid, Harriet Washington details how African-Americans, during and post-slavery, were disproportionately victimized by grave robbers and unauthorized autopsies and dissections. This issue of informed consent was not considered for African Americans because they were considered less than oeople. That being said, pseudoscientists were intrigued by eugenics and used this to justify shoddy treatment and immoral, non consensual experimentation on blacks. A central theme to the literature examined earlier in this course refers to a lack of consideration for the proper burial of African American corpses. African Americans were treated disproportionately bad in life, and this did not stop in death. Black bodies were considered expendable, according to Medical Apartheid, as grave robbing was common in African Americans cemeteries while black prisoners were often executed and used as cadavers. There was no consideration for the individual as a person, as scientists viewed them as only being of use dead, as cadavers to help understand the human body and develop medicine for the benefit of whites.

In, Nina Golgowski explains the discovery that at least 7000 bodies were found buried beneath the former Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum which was in operation between 1855 and 1935. This time period, which overlaps with Medical Apartheid, saw African Americans as not the only people to be mistreated. People with mental illness have long been stigmatized, and during this period, the mentally ill were summarily dismissed and categorized together despite having varying conditions. Prior to the discovery, there were many people who wondered where their ancestors had disappeared to.  Upon the discovery, many people still wondered where their ancestors could be found in the records which led people to regularly email Dr. Molly Zuckerman (who presided over excavations) asking about them. None of the emails included happy stories, as “It was always tragic.” The stories of African Americans and the mentally ill were similarly tragic. The way the mentally ill were summarily dismissed after death was similar to how African Americans were. Both were centers of scientific inquiry and in each group of victims, the families were never notified of death and their burials were equally ill considered. This suggests that discoveries about the atrocities perpetrated against downtrodden groups of people in past centuries are still coming to surface and that the complete histories of these people are not yet completely and clearly mapped out. In this sense, we are still living history, which is a theme central to Zone One.

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