Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore are renowned the world over for their prestige, but their histories include hard truths only recently being faced. The fall of 2020 saw the launch of the Hard Histories at Hopkins Project, under the leadership of previous Chautauqua Lecture Series and African American Heritage House presenter Martha S. Jones, examining the role that racism and discrimination have played at Johns Hopkins — from the findings that the institution’s namesake was a slaveholder, and the case of Henrietta Lacks, brought into the light by author Rebecca Skloot.
Skloot was a Black woman whose cells were biopsied without her knowledge or permission in 1951 while she underwent cancer treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and her unique cells changed the course of medical history. Skloot’s book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, brought a new focus on medical justice and ethics.
Several states, and more than a 12-hour drive, away from Hopkins and Baltimore, was Homer G. Phillips Hospital of St. Louis, Missouri — America’s largest segregated hospital, and the only public hospital for Black people in the city during its existence from 1937 to 1979.
The histories of Hopkins and Homer G. Phillips intertwine with Ezelle Sanford III. A visiting assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, Sanford is currently working on a book, Segregated Medicine: How Racial Politics Shaped American Healthcare, which utilizes the case of St. Louis’s Homer G. Phillips Hospital to trace how the logic and legacy of racial segregation established structures of healthcare inequality that persist to this day.
Sanford is also an assistant professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and his scholarship sits at the intersection of African American, medical and urban histories. He is particularly interested in histories of race, science and medicine from the 19th century to the present. At 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 17 in the Hall of Philosophy, he will give the Week Eight installment of the AAHH’s Chautauqua Speaker Series, discussing his work.
Among Sanford’s academic publications are 2021’s “Remembering Nurse Eunice Rivers Laurie, the Black Face of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, and Why She is an Important Figure for Students to Know” and, during the COVID-19 pandemic, “The Myth of Black Immunity: Racialized Disease during the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Sanford earned his PhD in history and history of science from Princeton University, and was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Program on Race, Science, and Society in the Center for Africana Studies at The University of Pennsylvania. His work, particularly on Segregated Medicine, has been supported by fellowships from the Ford Foundation, Washington University in St. Louis, and Princeton University.
Sanford’s book was borne of his doctoral dissertation, “A Source of Pride, A Vision of Progress: The Homer G. Phillips Hospital of St. Louis, MO (1937-1979).” For years, his research has sought to find answers to critical questions about the history of medicine, including: What was graduate medical education like for African Americans in the age of segregation? How did African Americans influence, and respond to, the changing health landscape over the course of the 20th century? Why didn’t Black hospitals survive the racial integration of United States healthcare?