CSHHH 2021 Seminar – 16 March 2021, @16.00 – Inner City Blues: African Americans, Psychiatry & Postwar ‘Urban Crisis’

Professor Martin Summers, Boston College

Inner City Blues: African Americans, Psychiatry, and the Postwar ‘Urban Crisis’

Opened in 1963, the Woodlawn Mental Health Center served the predominantly African American neighborhood of Woodlawn on Chicago’s South Side. Rooted in the community mental health care movement and having ties to the Saul Alinsky-affiliated The Woodlawn Organization, the center operated on the principles of citizen participation and community collaboration. Yet within eight years, the center became embroiled in a controversy that resulted in one of its co-directors—a white psychiatry professor at the University of Chicago—being forced to resign. In examining the history of the Woodlawn Mental Health Center, and especially its intervention program for first-graders who were considered maladaptive, this talk explores the contestation that occurred between the center and the community—and within the community itself—over such questions as: What mental health care needs of Woodlawn residents needed to be prioritized? What was the most effective and responsible way to address those needs? And what should be the proper relationship between mental health experts and a lay community committed to self-determination?

Bio: Martin Summers is Professor of History and African and African Diaspora Studies at Boston College. He is the author of Manliness and Its Discontents: The Black Middle Class and the Transformation of Masculinity, 1900–1930 (2004) and, most recently, of Madness in the City of Magnificent Intentions: A History of Race and Mental Illness in the Nation’s Capital (2019). He is currently working on a book on African American mental health and social policy in twentieth-century urban United States.

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