Graduate Conference Presentation

This picture shows an integrated polio hospital for children. Here an African American boy and white boy happily talk to one another, unconcerned about any color line.
This picture shows an integrated polio hospital for children. Here an African American boy and white boy happily talk to one another, unconcerned about a color line.

I will present my paper “The Cold War Polio Epidemic: Select Integration in the Time of Jim Crow” on 3/28/15 at the North Carolina State University History Graduate Conference.

This paper focuses on the integration of the Central Carolina Convalescent Hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina, and compares that event to three integrated hospitals and one rehabilitation center in Texas. I follow this section with an analysis of minority women’s activism in the South and Southwest. Many minority children did not have access to polio hospitals, therefore mothers sought to equal access through medical funds and promotional literature to bring their children’s plight in front of white Americans. This civil rights issue of select integration is hidden in the Jim Crow and Cold War historiography.

Here is the first page of my paper.

“As Americans watched the development of the Cold War and nuclear weapon stockpiling, an internal threat to American livelihood spread in the form a paralytic virus. The summers of 1946 through 1948 mark the beginning of the largest American polio epidemic. Until 1955, each seasonal epidemic paralyzed 10,000 to 27,000 people. The worst epidemic occurred in 1949 with over 42,000 victims.[1] As the outbreaks grew each summer, Americans feared their children would fall prey to the crippling disease. This paper focuses on the polio epidemic in North Carolina and Texas, where white communities contributed to the integration of their polio hospitals. This paper compares and contrasts the integration efforts of the Greensboro, North Carolina hospital and the four Texan hospitals illustrating how these white communities perceived the need for polio public health integration. I argue white Greensboro citizens temporarily abandoned Jim Crow practices and integrated the polio hospital to prevent the entire young community from literally collapsing under the virus. The Texan hospitals were not re-segregated after the polio epidemic waned, which indicates white’s interest in continual integrated public health. This paper contributes to the Jim Crow historiography by introducing a civil rights issue of Southern communities abandoning segregation to preserve the entire community.

Related to this discussion of the integrated hospitals is an analysis of minority women’s activism for equal health care beyond integrated polio hospitals. The integrated North Carolina and Texas polio hospitals are rare cases, which means many minorities did not have equal access to health care or funds for their children’s treatment or recovery. These Minority mothers gained access and visibility for their children through integrated March of Dimes campaign literature and their own community fundraisers. Multiple stakeholders in North Carolina, Texas, and other Southern states worked concurrently to integrate health care and funding for polio victims – these groups were the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, private donors, minority fundraising groups, and entire multiracial communities.”

[1] “Incidence Rates of Poliomyelitis in US,” Post-Polio Health International, accessed February 25, 2015, http://www.post-polio.org/ir-usa.html.

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