Is Separate Actually Equal?

Anna Johnston

After only a few weeks in this course I have already widened my knowledge on this topic and am interested in learning more about such a hard hitting topic that most people probably didn’t know existed in our history. One book we read in class was Home by Toni Morrison, a book about Frank Money and his sister Cee. Frank is an army veteran who doesn’t feel he has a purpose in life anymore. That is until he gets a letter telling him that Cee needs his help. I enjoyed reading this book because it was interesting to see Frank and Cees relationship, but also how differently they were treated.

In the beginning of Home, Frank was in a mental hospital but was not sure how he got there. Frank did not give consent to be there or even know what was being done to him while he was there, all he knew was that he had to escape. Frank escaped and knew he had to go to Georgia to save his sister, she was all he had left. Frank left his sister to go to war because he wanted out of Lotus and would do whatever it took to do that. When Frank left Cee, Cee’s protector abandoned her. While they were going up Frank always protected Cee from the bad things in life, I believe this caused Cee to be naive as an adult. When Frank was in the war Cee met a man named Prince, he was the first man to show Cee much attention. Cee was only fourteen when her and Prince had a Reverend come and bless them, after that, Prince took Cee to Atlanta. Cee was excited about her new life in Atlanta with Prince, only to find out he married her for her automobile. Prince left Cee alone and took the automobile. I believe Cee was naive and just loved having someone giving her attention since Frank always scared boys off when she was a child. After this, Cees family did not accept her nor want her to come back home and Lenore threatened to have Cee arrested. Since Prince left Cee she had barely any money and knew she needed to get a good paying job fast. Cee’s friend told her about Dr. Beau, and how he needed someone to help around the house. Although Cee did not get much information about the job see didn’t care, it was a well paying job and that was all she cared about. When Cee went to Dr. Beau’s house to apply for the job I thought it was strange. Mrs. Scott asked Cee very specific questions about whether she was married, had any children, and if she was affiliated with any church. She also asked Cee if she graduated high school and if she could read. Throughout this part of the book I felt that Mrs. Scott was talking down to Cee and was being short with her while she asked her the questions. Although Cee did not get much information about the job she was applying for, as soon as she saw the books on the bookshelf she should’ve turned and ran the other way. Some of the books on the shelf were, Out of the Night, The Passing of the Great Race, and Heredity, Race and Society. One quote I found from the book that was interesting was when Cee said, “And promised herself she would find time to read about and understand “eugenics.” This was a good, safe place, she knew, and Sarah had become her family, her friend, and her confidante(Morrison, 65).” While reading this I had a lot of questions going through my head. My most important one being, did Sarah know what the doctor was doing to Cee? Also, I thought it was ironic how Cee said she would read about and understand eugenics, because if she did that, she wouldn’t have gotten into the mess she was in.

While reading Home and learning about Cee, I was thinking about the Simkins V Cone Case we talked about in class. “In the early 1960s most hospitals did not accept blacks or colored people. Only nine hospitals existed for African Americans in North Carolina, and most were overcrowded and offered inadequate healthcare.” Even if an African American did go to a hospital that accepted them, they were not treated well at all. Most hospitals did not allow black physicians to admit patients or even train as interns. In the  1960s, George Simkins and other African American doctors and patients filed a lawsuit against Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital and Wesley Long Community Hospital because the facilities allegedly refused to accept black patients. After Simkins patient was denied access to the hospital, Simkins discovered that the same facilities had been built with federal funding, which means that it could implicate possible government discrimmination. Although the plaintiffs lost, they appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals and in November 1963, the court overruled the courts previous decision. The appellate court found the hospitals violated the fifth fourteen amendments. Although black health facilities were separate from white health facilities, they were definitely not equal. After their loss, the hospitals filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy filed a brief for Simkins and the other plaintiffs, but the Supreme Court denied the case. According to Karen Kruse Thomas, the Simkins V Cone “decision marked the first time that federal courts applied the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to prohibit racial discrimination by private entity.” The Simkins V Cone Case ended separate but equal forever and allowed African Americans to have equal opportunities in the healthcare field and gave patients opportunities to get the best treatments that they had instead of not being treated because of their skin color.

I found Home a very eye opening book because Frank in the beginning of the book was in a mental hospital, without giving consent to be there. Today, you must give consent and the hospital must tell you all the information about the treatments they are giving you and the procedures being done. It shocked me that Frank had no idea where he was or even what had happened to him and he didn’t make it as big of a deal as it actually was. Frank just knew he had to escape to get to his sister but it was almost like before that, he didn’t care that he was in the mental hospital.

One Reply to “Is Separate Actually Equal?”

  1. Anna,
    Thank you for citing my work on Simkins v Cone in your blog post. You make some very good points about how literature can help us better understand historical concepts like the way race and segregation influenced the mental health care system.
    Best regards,
    Karen Kruse Thomas
    Johns Hopkins University

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