Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Slavery at South Carolina College

Slavery at South Carolina College, 1801–1865:
The Foundations of the University of South Carolina
Students Engaging Slavery

Points of Interaction
In the years before emancipation, South Carolina College students interacted with slaves every day: at meals in Stewards Hall, in the tenements (their dormitories), and on the grounds. Between 1801 and 1860, the South Carolina College campus was small and close-knit. In 1808, for example, enrollment was 100 students, and there were only three professors and a tutor. There were 142 students by 1836 and 221 in 1848.

The young male students, many the sons of wealthy plantation-owning families, sang and recited poetry in the dormitories together, sometimes skipped chapel, classes, and recitations, and fought over food in Stewards Hall. Extending their misdeeds into town, they drank at taverns, sometimes to excess, and stole townspeople’s turkeys. To try to keep the students on campus, the college erected a brick wall, which still surrounds today’s Horseshoe. This did not solve the problem.

Students and Slaves in the Tenements

During the first few years, students could bring family slaves to campus to serve them, but the college forbade the practice after 1808. The college owned and hired slaves, and each student paid a servant fee each year. During their studies and social interaction in their rooms, the young men would have watched and sometimes spoken with the slaves who made their beds and swept their floors.

Slaves also washed students’ clothes; records document the hiring of a slave named Anna in 1846 who was a washerwoman. Sometimes slaves caught students disobeying college rules in their rooms. A Charleston senior named Frederick Belser beat a slave on one occasion because he believed the slave had told a professor about a card game in his room. Belser met with the faculty but was not punished for the misdemeanor because he apologized.

Student and Slave Interaction at Meals

Students spent a great deal of time in Stewards Hall, where they met daily at 8:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m. for required meals. The food was frequently below the students’ expectations: meat was salted rather than fresh, there was very little chicken or beef, few fresh vegetables, and the biscuits had vermin. Considering the fare, perhaps it is not surprising that two young men fought a duel over a dish of trout.

Students sometimes threatened the steward in person and bombarded him with letters demanding more wholesome food. Students complained that slaves who attended the dining hall were poor waiters and that there were not enough to take care of their needs. The young men grew angry with the slaves and, on occasion, threatened and hit the slaves who were serving the food. Although the college forbade such behavior, students generally went unpunished.

Students and Slaves in the Classroom

Students spent much of the day in lectures or recitations in one or two buildings. In the early days, Rutledge College was the single classroom building. Subjects included mathematics, moral philosophy, chemistry, history, political economy, logic, geology, mineralogy, Greek literature, and Latin literature. Eight to ten professors and three or four tutors instructed the students. Although many professors were loved and respected, such as Thomas Cooper and Francis Lieber, others were not, and students were regularly brought before the faculty to be disciplined for insulting professors.

Slaves cleaned the college classrooms, and one slave named Jack aided in the chemistry laboratory and in mathematics classes. Jack also hired himself out as a tutor to struggling math and chemistry students. After Jack’s death two slaves, both named Jim, were hired to assist in the chemistry department and in the mathematics and natural philosophy department. Gradually, new buildings and new subjects were added as the student body grew, but South Carolina College remained small, boasting only a few hundred students. (http://library.sc.edu/digital/slaveryscc/campus-slaves--slavery.html)

Slavery and the Origins of the University of South Carolina Welcome from Center for Digital Humanities at on Vimeo.

A 1865 letter from Jourdon Anderson (a freedman) To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson

Okay, after reading this article from Yahoo News, this is just a shameless repost from September 2009 (original post). I loved Jourdon's moxie. The original letter was published in the New York Daily Tribune on 22 August 1865. There are a bunch of comments on Yahoo.News that call this letter a "fake" or a bunch of "bullspit" because slaves couldn't read or write.

I'm sure that I don't need to remind regular readers of the US Slave Blog that many enslaved men and women could read and some slaves like Phyllis Wheatley were actually PUBLISHED in 1773.
Phyllis Wheatley, was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston, who taught her to read and write, and encouraged her poetry when they saw her talent.

'What we are in justice entitled to': A 1865 letter from a freedman

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee


I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung
you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here; I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here call her Mrs. Anderson), and the children, Milly, Jane and Grundy, go to school and are learning well; the teacher
says grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday- School, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated; sometimes we overhear others saying, "The colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master. Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

s to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free- papers in 1864 from the Provost- Marshal- General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly -- and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty- two years and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, esq, Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay day for the Negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Mil
ly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good- looking girls. You know how it was with Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve and die if it comes to that than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood, the great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

P.S. -- Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson

Medical Ethics: The Cells of Henrietta Lacks

From the SECOND OPINION in The New York Times, on 2 February 2010, "A Lasting Gift to Medicine That Wasn’t Really a Gift," by Denise Grady: Fifty years after Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in the “colored” ward at Johns Hopkins Hospital, her daughter finally got a chance to see the legacy she had unknowingly left to science. A researcher in a lab at Hopkins swung open a freezer door and showed the daughter, Deborah Lacks-Pullum, thousands of vials, each holding millions of cells descended from a bit of tissue that doctors had snipped from her mother’s cervix.

Ms. Lacks-Pullum gasped. “Oh God,” she said. “I can’t believe all that’s my mother.”

When the researcher handed her one of the frozen vials, Ms. Lacks-Pullum instinctively said, “She’s cold,” and blew on the tube to warm it. “You’re famous,” she whispered to the cells.

Minutes later, peering through a microscope, she pronounced them beautiful. But when she asked the researcher which were her mother’s normal cells and which the cancer cells, his answer revealed that her precious relic was not quite what it seemed. The cells, he replied, were “all just cancer.”

The vignette comes from a gripping new book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” (Crown Publishers), by the journalist Rebecca Skloot. The story of Mrs. Lacks and her cells, and the author’s own adventures with Mrs. Lacks’s grown children (one fries her a pork chop, and another slams her against a wall) is by turns heartbreaking, funny and unsettling. The book raises troubling questions about the way Mrs. Lacks and her family were treated by researchers and about whether patients should control or have financial claims on tissue removed from their bodies.

The story began in January 1951, when Mrs. Lacks was found to have cervical cancer. She was treated with radium at Johns Hopkins, the standard of care in that day, but there was no stopping the cancer. Her doctor had never seen anything like it. Within months, her body was full of tumors, and she died in excruciating pain that October. She was 31 and left five children, the youngest just a year old. She had been a devoted mother, and the children suffered terribly without her.

Neither Mrs. Lacks nor any of her relatives knew that doctors had given a sample of her tumor to Dr. George Gey, a Hopkins researcher who was trying to find cells that would live indefinitely in culture so researchers could experiment on them. Before she came along, his efforts had failed. Her cells changed everything: they multiplied like crazy and never died.

A cell line called HeLa (for Henrietta Lacks) was born. Those immortal cells soon became the workhorse of laboratories everywhere. HeLa cells were used to develop the first polio vaccine, they were launched into space for experiments in zero gravity and they helped produce drugs for numerous diseases, including Parkinson’s, leukemia and the flu. By now, literally tons of them have been produced.

Dr. Gey did not make money from the cells, but they were commercialized. Now they are bought and sold every day the world over, and they have generated millions in profits.

The Lacks family never got a dime. They were poor, with little education and no health insurance, and some had serious physical or mental ailments. But they didn’t even know that tissue had been taken or that HeLa cells even existed until more than 20 years after Mrs. Lacks’s death. And they found out only by accident, when her daughter-in-law met someone from the National Cancer Institute who recognized her surname and said he was working with cells from “a woman named Henrietta Lacks.”

The daughter-in-law rushed home and told Mrs. Lacks’s son, Lawrence, “Part of your mother, it’s alive!”

When they learned that their mother’s cells had saved lives, the family felt proud. But they also felt confused, a bit frightened, used and abused. It had never occurred to anyone to ask permission to take their mother’s tissue, tell them that her cells had changed scientific history or even to say thank you. And certainly no one had ever suggested that they deserved a share of the profits.

Some of the Lackses later gave blood to Hopkins researchers, thinking they were being tested for cancer, when really the scientists wanted their genetic information to help determine whether HeLa cells were contaminating other cultures. When Ms. Lacks-Pullum asked a renowned geneticist at the hospital, Victor McKusick, about her mother’s illness and the use of her cells, he gave her an autographed copy of an impenetrable textbook he had edited, and, Ms. Skloot writes, “beneath his signature, he wrote a phone number for Deborah to use for making appointments to give more blood.”

The bounds of fairness, respect and simple courtesy all seem to have been breached in the case of the Lacks family. The gulf between them and the scientists — race, class, education — was enormous and made communication difficult.

A less charitable view is that it might have made the Lackses easier to ignore. When the family’s story became known in the black community in Baltimore, Ms. Skloot writes, it was seen as the case of a black woman whose body had been exploited by white scientists.

Ideas about informed consent have changed in the last 60 years, and the forms now given to people having surgery or biopsies usually spell out that tissue removed from them may be used for research. But Ms. Skloot points out that patients today don’t really have any more control over removed body parts than Mrs. Lacks did. Most people just obediently sign the forms.

Which is as it should be, many scientists say, arguing that Mrs. Lacks’s immortal cells were an accident of biology, not something she created or invented, and were used to benefit countless others. Most of what is removed from people is of no value anyway, and researchers say it would be too complicated and would hinder progress if ownership of such things were assigned to patients and royalties had to be paid.

But in an age in which people can buy songs with the click of a mouse, that argument may become harder to defend.

So far, the courts have sided with scientists, even in a case in the 1980s in which a leukemia patient’s spleen and other tissues turned out to be a biomedical gold mine — for his doctor. The patient, John Moore, sued his doctor after discovering that the doctor had filed for a patent on his cells and certain proteins they made, and had created a cell line called Mo with a market value estimated at $3 billion. Mr. Moore ultimately lost before the California Supreme Court.

As Ms. Skloot writes in her last chapter, this issue is not going away. If anything, it may become increasingly important, because the scale of tissue research is growing, and people are becoming savvier about the money to be made and also the potential for abuse if tissue samples are used to ferret out genetic information.

The notion of “tissue rights” has inspired a new category of activists. The question that comes up repeatedly is, if scientists or companies can commercialize a patient’s cells or tissues, doesn’t that patient, as provider of the raw material, deserve a say about it and maybe a share of any profits that result? Fewer people these days may be willing to take no for an answer. (source: SECOND OPINION in The New York Time)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Medical Ethics: HeLa Cells from Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951)

In the New York Times Book Review, from 2 February 2010, reviewer Dwight Garner writes: The woman who provides this book its title, Henrietta Lacks, was a poor and largely illiterate Virginia tobacco farmer, the great-great-granddaughter of slaves. Born in 1920, she died from an aggressive cervical cancer at 31, leaving behind five children. No obituaries of Mrs. Lacks appeared in newspapers. She was buried in an unmarked grave.

To scientists, however, Henrietta Lacks almost immediately became known simply as HeLa (pronounced hee-lah), from the first two letters of her first and last names. Cells from Mrs. Lacks’s cancerous cervix, taken without her knowledge, were the first to grow in culture, becoming “immortal” and changing the face of modern medicine. There are, Ms. Skloot writes, “trillions more of her cells growing in laboratories now than there ever were in her body.” Laid end to end, the world’s HeLa cells would today wrap around the earth three times.

Because HeLa cells reproduced with what the author calls a “mythological intensity,” they could be used in test after test. “They helped with some of the most important advances in medicine: the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization,” Ms. Skloot writes. HeLa cells were used to learn how nuclear bombs affect humans, and to study herpes, leukemia, Parkinson’s disease and AIDS. They were sent up in the first space missions, to see what becomes of human cells in zero gravity.

Bought and sold and shipped around the world for decades, HeLa cells are famous to science students everywhere. But little has been known, until now, about the unwitting donor of these cells. Mrs. Lacks’s own family did not know that her cells had become famous (and that people had grown wealthy from marketing them) until more than two decades after her death, after scientists had begun to take blood from her surviving family members, without their informed consent, in order to better study HeLa.

Ms. Skloot, a young science journalist and an indefatigable researcher, writes about Henrietta Lacks and her impact on modern medicine from almost every conceivable angle and manages to make all of them fascinating. She reports, for example, on the history and science of cellular research, about its pioneers and its calumnies. But “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” resonates most as a complex and vital human document and a searching moral inquiry into greed and blinkered lives.

Ms. Skloot tells the story of Mrs. Lacks’s life, from those tobacco fields in small-town Clover, Va., to the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in the 1950s, where she was treated for her cancer, and where her cells were harvested. She follows the members of Mrs. Lacks’s family to East Baltimore, where many of them live today, still struggling with her complicated legacy. As one of Mrs. Lacks’s sons says: “She’s the most important person in the world, and her family living in poverty. If our mother so important to science, why can’t we get health insurance?”
Elsie Lacks, Henrietta's older daughter

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is packed with memorable characters, from quirky if brilliant early researchers to Nobel Prize-winning Nazi sympathizers to long-haired Rolling Stone reporters in the 1970s to a con artist known as Sir Lord Keenan Kester Cofield. (Just when you think things can’t get weirder, Judge Joseph Wapner — the “People’s Court” television judge — makes a cameo.)

Ms. Skloot is a memorable character herself. She never intrudes on the narrative, but she takes us along with her on her reporting, as she moves around the country in her battered, muffler-free black Honda. Her most complicated job is to get Mrs. Lacks’s family, who are tired of white people trying to pry information from them, to speak with her. She does eventually win them over. And Mrs. Lacks’s daughter Deborah is dead-on when she says to Ms. Skloot: “Get ready, girl. You got no idea what you gettin’ yourself into.”

Ms. Skloot writes with particular sensitivity and grace about the history of race and medicine in America. Black oral history, she points out, is full of stories about “night doctors,” men who could pluck black patients off the streets to experiment on their bodies. There was some truth behind those tales.

The author traces events like the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study, in which poor and uneducated black men with syphilis were recruited and then allowed to die terrible and entirely preventable deaths, while doctors lied to them and kept life-saving penicillin from them. Ms. Skloot makes it abundantly clear why, when Henrietta Lacks’s family learned that her cells were still living, the images that ran through their minds were straight out of science-fiction horror movies.

Mrs. Lacks had another daughter, Elsie, who was deaf and mute and possibly retarded. Elsie was shipped off at a young age to Crownsville State Hospital in Maryland, formerly known as the Hospital for the Negro Insane, and died there at 15. Perhaps the most devastating moment in this book comes when Ms. Skloot, along with Deborah, finds a grim photograph of Elsie in the hospital’s records and uncovers some of the horrors of what life there must have been like.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is also, from first page to last, a meditation on medical ethics — on the notion of informed consent, and on the issue of who owns human cells. When they’re in your body, it’s obvious — they’re yours. But once they’ve been removed? All bets are clearly off. (source: The New York Times)

Medical Ethics: "Deadly Monopolies"

The Forbes Magazine's article, "Biological Shock Treatment: A Discussion with "Deadly Monopolies" Author Harriet A. Washington," by Michael Charles Tobias on 20 December 2011 interviews author Harriet Washington:

Michael Tobias: An earlier portion of your book focuses on how the primacy of commercial interests stymie or block medical access to needed medications.

Harriet Washington: Drug companies buy or license the patents of medically important entities that were developed in universities with our tax dollars, then they charge enormous prices that in the US are unfettered by government price controls. It’s my opinion that some corporations halt the testing of medications that they fear will not be profitable blockbusters earning at least $1 billion a year, as PolPharma did with the promising liver cancer drug PI-88; or some companies repurpose drugs for more profitability, if more trivial uses, as when the sleeping sickness drug eflornithine – which few of the afflicted Africans could afford – was pressed into service as a facial depilatory for women at $50 a month.

Companies also ignore or under-develop drugs for scourges of poor people in the developing world such as cholera, malaria, tuberculosis and sleeping sickness even as they pursue profitable drugs for common but relatively trivial disorders such as erectile dysfunction and gastric distress.

Michael Tobias: In your work you’ve referenced a huge discrepancy between pharmaceutical investments in critical versus non-critical drugs, and the line tends to divide straight down the middle of the developed versus developing world.

Harriet Washington: Harvard economist Michael Kremer tells us that of the 1,233 medications developed by the pharmaceutical industries between 1975 and 1997, only 4 targeted the diseases that strike people in the developing world. We’ve had 14 drugs for erectile dysfunction since 1996, although it kills no one. The one new drug for fatal sleeping sickness which threatens 60 million Africans, was withdrawn after five years in which its patent-holder could make no profit.

High prices separate people from the drugs they need as well and in Deadly Monopolies I detail how the industry’s claim that such high prices are necessitated by billions in research and development costs for each new drug is simply untrue. In the West, expensive drugs bankrupt patients: in the developing world, the untreated patients simply die. New cures are often generated from biologicals found among poor native peoples and are often tested in Third World clinics. But once perfected, these medications tend to be priced out of the reach of the communities that made them possible.

Continue reading the entire interview here at Forbes.com

"Deadly Monopolies": Medical Ethicist Harriet Washington on How Firms are Taking Over Life Itself

Racial Residue: How Race Alters Perception of People, Places, and Things

Confronting Racism: The Problem and the Response

Racial Residue: How Race Alters Perception of People, Places, and Things

Stanford University psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt presents her research on how race influences our perception of objects and physical spaces, how objects and physical spaces influence how we think about race and how race changes how we see people.

Black Women and Reproductive Rights

DOROTHY ROBERTS: In contemporary America there is a prevalent belief that poor black women shouldn't have children. And that their having children is the cause of black people's problems, well, indeed, of America's problems. I think for a long time the denigration of black women's reproduction was just ignored by mainstream feminists because they had the image of the white mother in mind. Even though there are restrictions on white mothers, it's a fundamentally different kind of regulation. And then there are other feminists who are so wedded to abortion rights as the most important issue and to abortion as the be all and end all of reproductive freedom that there s a resistance to seeing coercive birth control policies as also being oppressive. They don't get that distributing Norplant and Depo-Provera in poor communities and telling women, "This is what you should use," could be oppressive. (source: MS Magazine)

Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty

DOROTHY ROBERTS: A perfect example is sterilization. In the seventies, a group of feminists opposed waiting periods and rigid informed consent procedures for sterilization. Women of color said, "Let's put limits on sterilization because doctors are guilty of abuse." But this just didn't register with some of the mainstream reproductive rights groups that had been pushing for greater access to sterilization for white, middle-class women. While poor black women were, in some cases, forcibly sterilized, sometimes without their knowledge, let alone consent, white women had a hard time getting sterilized. There were all sorts of formulas to figure out if you should allow a white woman to be sterilized. This exemplifies how diametrically opposed the experience of the struggle for reproductive rights has been for these two groups. (source: MS Magazine)

DOROTHY ROBERTS: And now there is this boom in popularity for the fertility business, which was primarily designed to help white, middle-class couples have children. That seems like a fundamental moral contradiction that people should be grappling with. We need to think about whether there should be limits on the fertility industry. It's virtually unregulated. The multiple births that result from these technologies point to the contradiction of a public not willing to pay the expenses of one additional child born to a welfare mother, yet willing to support seven children born to a white couple. (source: MS Magazine)

Between 1929 and 1974 over 7,600 people were sterilized by the state of North Carolina.

DOROTHY ROBERTS: Why shouldn't we be able to at least think about, debate, and consider whether there should be limits on the fertility business, which requires public expense so that a particular group of people can have children? But white men, especially, get very upset when you start questioning their right to have children. I can't tell you the number of red faces I've encountered. People get very defensive when you suggest that their decisions about having children might have some racial implications. The response I get all the time is, "This has nothing to do with racism. I just want children like me." (source: MS Magazine)

DOROTHY ROBERTS: The thing about reproduction is that, more than anything else, it tells you how a society values people. When many black groups read my book and invite me to speak, their focus is on genocide. I actually don't claim that these are policies designed to eliminate black people. I think it functions more on the ideological level to support a whole host of policies that keep blacks at the bottom. But I'm not so sanguine as to say that they couldn't have that aim at some point. There is a danger that when the public gets used to policies that use reproduction as a solution to social problems, they might be more amenable in the future to actual policies of genocide. Around the time Norplant came out, an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer suggested it was a solution to black poverty. The paper did issue an apology, but a lot of people supported it. And there was legislation proposed all over the country to use Norplant to keep poor black women from having children. And then there's CRACK, Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity, a private organization that offers women who use drugs and alcohol $200 to be sterilized. People jumped on that as the solution to drug use during pregnancy. It is scary that people will leap to these drastic solutions involving reproduction when we dont have adequate health care or drug treatment. These policies support high incarceration rates for black people, high removal rates of black children from their homes by the child welfare system, and a horrible education system. They say we don't need to spend money on social welfare programs or figure out racism and poverty; the solution is to keep these people from having children. (source: MS Magazine)

DOROTHY ROBERTS: I am a firm believer that you start with the experiences of the most oppressed people. It expands our view of what reproductive liberty is. And the [job of feminists] has to be to expand the way we think about reproductive freedom. I've had lots of debates with activists who argue that the way to appeal to a broad white audience is to place white middle-class women's issues at the forefront, because those women are more likable and empathetic. One example is in the prosecution of substance abuse during pregnancy. Even though most of the prosecutions were against poor black women who smoked crack, the strategy in California, for example, was to make this about the infringement on the liberties of white middle-class women. They tried to make the argument that if this kind of policy keeps going on, in time, you wont be able to drink coffee while you re pregnant. But you don't get any fundamental change this way. You have to focus on the people who are being hit the hardest and figure out an agenda that centers on them. The difficult question is, how do you get around the fact that many white Americans won't do anything that they see as benefiting black people? (source: MS Magazine)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Pica: Eating Clay and Dirt

Erik Eckholm reports in the New York Times "Clay Eating Proves Widespread But Reason Is Uncertain," on 22 July 1986:

The practice of eating dirt, usually fine clays, is so common in so many societies that it must be regarded as a normal human behavior rather than an oddity, according to scientists who are studying it. Yet why hundreds of millions of people and dozens of animal species consume earth remains a mystery, and information about the health effects is contradictory and incomplete.
Some evidence indicates that consumption of soils, a practice known as geophagy, can supply minerals otherwise deficient in local diets, fight nausea, indigestion and diarrhea, and even counter ingested poisons. One anthropologist makes a strong case that, by neutralizing the toxic chemicals in wild tubers in the Andes of South America, dietary clays permitted the consumption and later domestication of the potato, now one of the world's main foods.

But medical experts warn that some varieties of clays being consumed can induce dangerous nutritional deficiencies, and physicians have identified a ''geophagic syndrome'' among practitioners in the Middle East who suffered serious ailments following heavy, chronic clay consumption.

The eating of clays occurs among cultural groups on every inhabited continent, observes Donald E. Vermeer, an geographer at Louisiana State University, placing it ''in the normal range of human behavior.'' Often the clay is prepared as a standardized product - shaped or pounded into nuggets and in some cases cooked. In West Africa, a favored variety is smoked and traded more than a thousand miles.

Geophagy is prevalent in Asia, the Middle East, parts of Latin America and in the rural South of the United States. In Sub-Saharan Africa hundreds of cultures including both farmers and nomads consume dirt, mainly clay but in some cases sand, Dr. Vermeer said.

Historical records of earth-eating in Europe go back to 300 B.C., when Aristotle described it, notes Darla E. Danford, a nutritional specialist at the National Research Council. Since then it has been documented ''in both sexes, in all races, and in animals as well as humans,'' and ''in all socioeconomic groups,'' she said. Over the centuries, clay was often prescribed to counter illnesses and poisons, and in some countries it has been mixed into bread dough.

Clay consumption is nearly everywhere most common among pregnant women, perhaps because of its antinausea effects, experts hypothesize. The limited data indicate that from 30 percent to 50 percent of pregnant women in large areas of Africa and among rural blacks in parts of the American South consume clay, according to Dr. Vermeer, and that hundreds of millions of women worldwide do it during pregnancy.
Africans captured in the slave trade brought the habit to the United States with them, which presumably explains its traditional prevalence among blacks. While modernization has probably led to less clay eating in the South in recent decades, Dr. Vermeer said, to some degree the practice seems to have ''gone underground'' because of the stigma many Americans attach to it.

To this day, many rural Southern blacks dig clays with the desired sour taste from local pits, often from subsoil in roadbanks, Dr. Vermeer said. ''In Alabama, damage to roadbanks in some places has been so extensive that the highway department has posted signs requesting local residents not to dig into them,'' he noted.

The clay is baked and often mixed with vinegar and salt. In northern cities, some women who crave clay have their favorite types sent by Southern relatives, while others consume Argo starch, which has similar properties, as a substitute.

Some poor whites in the South also eat clay despite strong social pressures not to. Although American physicians tend instinctively to condemn the practice, ''no current evidence indicates that normal consumption of clays in the American South is either beneficial or harmful,'' Dr. Vermeer said. Eating of excessive quantities can cause intestinal blockage.

Much more research is needed on the incidence and health effects of geophagy, experts in medicine, anthropology and animal physiology asserted recently at a symposium at the annual meeting in Philadelphia of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. One of the few certainties is that the chemical properties of soils eaten around the world differ greatly, making it unlikely that there is any single explanation of why people eat earth or how it affects them.

Although the few available studies usually attribute the practice to women and small children, the incidence among adult men may be under-reported, according to Dr. Danford, who has found in studies of institutionalized, mentally handicapped individuals that many men consume dirt.

Elks and bears, raccoons and parrots, giraffes and zebras are among the many animals that have been spotted eating earth. In Kenya some elephants make perilous nocturnal climbs to hillside caves in search of their favorite dirt. Like people, animals tend to choose subsoils, usually claylike but sometimes sandy, according to Bernadette M. Marriott, a researcher in comparative medicine at the University of Puerto Rico. Sheep in New Zealand annually consume hundreds of pounds each, and agricultural scientists have debated whether to add soil to the rations of intensively produced livestock.

Some studies indicate that by eating dirt, animals are correcting dietary mineral imbalances. Dr. Marriott's research on monkeys in Puerto Rico and Nepal, for example, indicates that the animals are deriving a significant share of the iron they need from clay soils, which they consume from specific sites to which they return over and over. Possibly, she said, the monkeys also ingest bacteria in the soil that provide antibiotic or other pharmaceutical effects.

Rats eat clay to offset ingested poisons, according to Denis Mitchell of the University of Southern California. Rats, which are relatively indiscriminate eaters, often swallow toxic materials ranging from natural chemicals to pesticides.

In experiments, rats fed compounds that caused them stomachaches and diarrhea ate much more clay than normal. The fine clay particles may help prevent intestinal absorption of toxic materials or promote the body's excretion of them, Dr. Mitchell said, an important aid since rats do not vomit when they eat poisons.

Nearly all of the 160 wild potato species growing in the Andes contain toxic chemicals, and so do two of the eight species cultivated and consumed by local Indians. The Indians prevent these tubers from causing gastrointestinal distress either by leaching out the chemicals or by eating the tubers with a dip made of clay and a mustardlike herb, reported Timothy Johns, an anthropologist at the University of California at Berkeley. Some local clays, which are sold in mountain markets, are especially good at chemically countering the poisons - at ''getting rid of the bitter taste,'' as the Indians describe it.

Dr. Johns says this may explain how ancient Andeans were able to begin consuming toxic wild potatoes and eventually domesticate many milder varieties.

Indians in the American Southwest likewise use clay as a condiment with toxic wild tubers, and hunter-gatherer peoples have been observed eating clay with acorns for the same reason. Lurid accounts of famine victims in China or medieval Europe who were reduced to eating dirt may not reflect hunger, as horrified observers imagined, but the need to eat clay as famine victims turned to toxic wild foods, Dr. Johns hypothesized.

The clays consumed by one Nigerian tribe are rich in calcium, contributing to infant development, Dr. Vermeer reported. Another type of West African clay that is widely mined and traded is high in kaolin, which, like the commercial product Kaopectate that contains it, functions as an antidiarrheal.

Despite these many possible medical benefits, experts warn against the attractive assumption that clay eating necessarily represents an instinctive effort to meet nutritional or other medical needs. They point to well-documented hazards. Some kinds of clay are known to bind chemically with iron, zinc and other minerals, preventing their absorption by the body, and clay eating has been periodically associated with anemia for hundreds of years. It is probably this binding power, Dr. Danford observed, that accounts for clay's ancient popularity as a poison antidote.

Extreme overindulgence in clay eating can block the colon, which can lead to perforation of the colon and death. A more common problem is the geophagic syndrome seen over the last three decades among scores of clay eaters in Portugal, Iran, Turkey, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. The syndrome involves anemia and zinc deficiencies, growth retardation, delayed sexual maturity, and liver and spleen enlargement, Dr. Danford said.

The victims included both men and women, some of whom ate several cups of clay a day. But this threat may be limited; a study found that clay from Turkey had a higher capacity to bind iron and zinc than clay samples from New Mexico and Georgia.

Dr. Danford warned that dirt eaters anywhere should receive careful medical evaluation, especially pregnant women and children, who could be disastrously affected.

But Dr. Vermeer observed that in many cultures with long histories of dirt eating no ill effects have been documented and in some cases there appear to be benefits. He said he disagreed with the common assumption of physicians that the practice should be stamped out.

Calling above all for more research, the experts agreed with Dr. Danford's statement that the practice of dirt-eating remains ''full of paradoxes.'' (source: The New York Times, 22 July 1986)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mississippi's Mississippi: The Delta Region

The Mississippi Delta is known as the poorest corner of the poorest state in America. And what little economic opportunity the region does hold is just a few factory closures away from collapse, reports the BBC's Paul Adams.

The Mississippi Delta has long been a byword for hard times.

The region is the home of the blues, and it has never quite managed to shake off its reputation as a place of misery, poverty and racial inequality.

When a young photographer, Al Clayton, documented the area in 1967, the images he captured - of malnourished children and people living in abject poverty - helped bring national attention to the region's plight.

"There was a part of it that was so depressing and painful to live with," he says.

The black and white pictures, collected in the book Still Hungry in America, shocked the country, and for Mr Clayton, the experience was shattering.

"It was hard to get through," he recalls.

Dubious distinctions

Although the particular nature of the region's poverty has changed a half a century later, the region remains in crisis.

Nationwide, 14.3% of Americans lived in poverty in 2009. In Mississippi, the figure was 22%, and in some counties in the Delta, it was 48%.

The Delta, where children's bellies were once distended from malnutrition, is now the fattest region in America, and it leads the country in teen pregnancy and single parenthood.

Some corners of Belzoni, a town Mr Clayton visited with civil rights worker Kenneth Dean, seem barely to have changed. Third Street is still lined with ramshackle, draughty wooden shacks.

Though they now have running water and toilets, the dilapidated houses look just the way they did 44 years ago. Two in a field off Highway 49 have been turned into museum pieces.

"They were old in 1967," Mr Dean says as he casts his eye over the scene today.

But some things have changed since Mr Clayton first pointed his camera at scenes of grinding poverty.

In the 1960s, the houses were inhabited by single mothers struggling to feed their children.

Some of Third Street's original inhabitants remain, but most residents now are unemployed men, some strung out on drugs and alcohol.

Belzoni is still full of single women, but many of them live in low-income housing on the edge of town.

Thanks to the Head Start programme which began in the 60s and expanded dramatically over the years, their children are fed and educated in nurturing environments, like the pre-school centre run by the Friends of Children of Mississippi.

The need for such programmes is great, says executive director Marvin Hogan.

More than 93,000 Mississippi children under six years of age live in poverty, Mr Hogan says.

"That's a lot of children," he says.

Some of their mothers work at the catfish processing plant in nearby Isola.

In the 60s, catfish helped to fill the employment gap left by the end of sharecropping and the mechanisation of agriculture.

But competition from Asia has shuttered some of the area's plants, and the industry's decline poses a grave threat to the region, says Dick Stevens, president of Consolidated Catfish Producers.

"I don't see something coming in here to replace it," he says.

"It's only a blink away from being nearly as bad as it was years ago. In this area, you either work in a catfish plant, education or healthcare, or you don't work. That's it. There's nothing else."

Day Laborers Waiting to be Paid for Cotton Picking. Mississippi Delta, 1939

'Still regressing'

In an effort to exploit what meagre opportunities do exist, a small job training centre in Belzoni runs courses in nursing and computing.

Marcus Dennard, born to sharecropping parents the year Al Clayton and Kenneth Dean first toured the region, is training to be a nurse's assistant. Little else is available, he says.

"The younger generation don't have anything to do," he says.

"We have no public transportation to get back and forth to work. They're all just standing around, doing what they can to survive."

The Delta, he says, feels trapped.

"Everyone else seems to be moving forward and we still seem to be regressing," he says, "so I'm doing what I can."

In one room at the job training centre, two students are studying phlebotomy. In the 60s, they might have helped to inoculate children against the infectious diseases which ravaged communities throughout the Delta.

Today, those diseases are mostly eradicated, but health workers battle different epidemics: obesity and diabetes.

Painful history

In one major respect, life has improved.

The routine racial coercion and violence suffered by African-Americans has gone, and Belzoni has a black mayor and sheriff.

But a fundamental problem, rooted in this region's painful history, remains.

"This large population, created here through the introduction of slavery, is still here," says Mr Dean.

"How does this population rise up to normative, middle-American values and assets when its relationship to the land is severed?" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16385337)


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