A Terrible Thing to Waste: The Black Caucus and Mental Health Awareness

Introduction by Polina Ilieva

During the spring semester 2018 the archives team co-taught and facilitated a new History of Health Sciences course, the Anatomy of an Archive. The idea of this course was conceived by the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine (DAHSM) Assistant Professor, Aimee Medeiros and UCSF Head of Archives & Special Collections, Polina Ilieva. Kelsi Evans, Project Archivist, co-facilitated the discussion sessions and Kelsi, Polina and David Uhlich, Access and Collections Archivist, served as mentors for students’ processing projects throughout the duration of the course.

The goal of this course was to provide an overview of archival science with an emphasis on the theory, methodology, technologies and best practices of archival research, arrangement and description. The archivists put together a list of collections requiring processing and also corresponding to students’ research interests and each student selected one that she/he worked on with her/his mentor to arrange and create a finding aid. During this 10 week long assignment students developed competence researching and describing an archival collection, as well as interpreting the historical record. At the conclusion of this course students wrote a story about their experience and collections they researched for the archives blog. In the next three weeks we will be sharing these posts with you.

This week’s story comes from Antoine S. Johnson, PhD student, UCSF Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine.

Post by Antoine S. Johnson

Historically, racism in America has taken its toll on its victims and UCSF has been no exception—from the black hospital sanitary worker who was restricted to use only the basement bathroom to the qualified medical student denied residency. One month after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., black employees fought back and formed the Black Caucus. The organization not only fought for equal treatment but also advocated for the reaffirmation of black humanity and an increased awareness about the health impact of racism on its sufferers.

The Black Power Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s consisted of witty slogans that reasserted black humanity. African Americans shouted slogans such as “Black is Beautiful” as a way to convince themselves that black was not as negative and distasteful as society portrayed it. This had important psychological effects. The Black Caucus ensured black staff, faculty, and students joined the movement with similar quotes and passages in its Black Bulletin. In fact, in a March 1971 edition of the Bulletin, the Caucus adopted its own version of the catchphrase, “Black Beauty You Are the Best.” Promoting blackness in a positive way was a unique way for the Caucus to align itself with larger black issues. To show their solidarity, the Caucus advertised speaking engagements and updates on leaders of the Black Power Movement, including Huey P. Newton, Angela Davis, and Kathleen Cleaver.

The Black Caucus aimed to demonstrate that racism not only is an injustice but that it can be hazardous to one’s health. Racial discrimination was stressful, it argued. Also, in a 1972 letter to the chancellor, the Caucus posited, “One theory of psychology revolves around the fact that crises and confrontation are two of the most volatile means of bringing about change.”

Thus, they refused to allow emotional issues to fall by the wayside, even if the university saw such problems as trivial. The stress could also be a trigger for underlying issues, like G6PD Deficiency. In G6PD, stress is one of the main triggers, resulting in abdominal and back pain, as well as fever and fatigue. The genetic disorder destroys red blood cells prematurely, cutting off oxygen traveling to the lungs, shortening one’s breath, and increasing their heart rate. In the United States, the condition is most common among men of African descent. Aware of this correlation, in 1971, the Caucus screened nearly 600 people on campus for sickle-cell anemia research and G6PD. This campaign to make visible the damage stress brought on by racism could do to black people was extended to the community via the Blackman’s Free Clinic on McAllister Street. Racism knows no boundaries, and the Black Caucus wanted to bring awareness to what should be considered a health concern beyond the walls of UCSF.

The health of African Americans, in particular mental health, also influenced the Caucus’ demands to diversify UCSF’s clinical faculty. In a statistical document from 1972, the Black Caucus concluded that one in 670 white American citizens became doctors, compared to one in every 5,000 African Americans. The psychiatry department was one of the main divisions in which the Caucus, as well as Edward Weinshel, then-director of the Department of Psychiatry, saw as an imperative to the school’s future. In fact, in a letter dated July 14, 1971, Weinshel pleaded for the university’s psychiatry department to recruit more black applicants. Dr. Charles T. Carman, the Acting Dean, responded in less than two weeks, notifying Weinshel that he sent his letter to the chairman of the psychiatry department, the Assistant Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs, and to Joanne Lewis, then the chairperson of the Black Caucus.

A vested interest in black students would result in more licensed black psychiatrists, a field that both the Caucus and Weinshel saw in dire need of black physicians to assess the mental and physical characteristics of black patients. More importantly, Weinshel foresaw black psychiatrists assisting members of the Westside Community Mental Health Consortium, home of the “greatest number of black residents in San Francisco as well as significant numbers of other minority groups.”

Indeed, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste;” it is also a terrible thing not to protect. UCSF’s Black Caucus was keenly aware of the potential harm endemic racism had on black faculty, staff, and students and surrounding community members. By promoting racial pride and bringing attention to the harmful effects of racism, the Black Caucus spearheaded a movement that highlighted the mental implications of racism, offered solutions, and found allies in their struggle who saw avenues through which the Caucus could get involved within and outside of the university.

Volunteer Report: The Papers of Robert Langley Porter

This is a guest post by Seth Cotterell, UCSF Archives Volunteer.

As a UCSF Archives volunteer, I get to play an important supporting role in achieving our mission to identify and provide access to rare and unique material and support research and teaching of the health sciences, medical humanities, and the history of UCSF. Toward that end I have been updating old records and creating new ones that will result in making new, detailed finding aids for collections available online to researchers soon. You’ll have to come back for my next guest blog post to hear the details of that project, though. Today I thought I’d share with you a sneak peek at one of those collections.

If you’re familiar with the history of UCSF you’ve probably heard of Robert Langley Porter. Dr. Porter was a pediatrician and later served as dean of the UC School of Medicine from 1927-1940. He may be best known for spearheading the creation of the Langley Porter Institute, today called the Langley Porter Psychiatric Hospital and Clinics, which receives more than 20,000 visits per year. Of course, this is the kind of information you can get from any web search. What I love about archival research, what you don’t find anywhere else, is the added insight. It’s the glimpse into the mind of the creator, the display of personality, and the richness of character captured in archival collections. For example, did you know that Dr. Porter was also a poet, sometimes writing verses on the back of Office of the Dean letterhead? This collection includes a love sonnet, a poem about potatoes, and this one which he apparently wrote in the bath!

Poem by Robert Langley Porter, 1924. Porter papers, MSS 77-11. Carton 1, folder 6.

Research is about so much more than simply gathering and reporting data points. Where else but in an archival collection could you expect to find a historical figure’s musings on the great questions, like what is life and what separates human beings from animals and microscopic organisms, next to guidelines for managing the “behavior abnormalities of children,” alongside the outline for an opera he wrote starring a Pan-like deity symbolizing the antithesis of materialism and destruction of nature? Spoiler alert: all this and more can be found in just the miscellaneous writings folders of this collection. And I, for one, would love to know in what context he used these jokes:

From miscellaneous writings (1), Porter papers, MSS 77-11. Carton 1, folder 14.

One of the most interesting items in the collection for me is a scrapbook that may have been given to Porter on the occasion of his retirement. Included are heartfelt and humorous well wishes from students and colleagues that give us an idea of the impact he had on those around him, not just as a highly respected professional in his field, but as a genuine human being.

Scrapbook, Porter papers, MSS 77-1. Oversize folder 1.

I look forward to continuing to work with our fascinating collections and to improving accessibility by publishing a number of new finding aids in the very near future for your viewing pleasure.

Ralph H. Kellogg: A Man of Service

This is a guest post by Lynda Letona, Archives Assistant, regarding her project to process additions to the Ralph H. Kellogg papers.

Dr. Ralph H. Kellogg wore many hats: awarded professor, scientist, writer, and even archivist/photographer. Born on June 7, 1920 in Connecticut, his work carried him across the United States and abroad, from Latin America to the United Kingdom.

Ralph H. Kellogg in laboratory, 1956-07-29. MSS 90-38, carton 25, folder 3.

Kellogg was recruited by the University of California from Harvard University, where he had served as Teaching Fellow and Instructor from 1946-1953. He joined the University of California School of Medicine in 1953 and spent the rest of his career with UCSF (with a brief sabbatical appointment as Visiting Fellow in Oxford University’s Laboratory of Physiology from 1970 -1971). Starting out as a renal physiologist, Kellogg shifted his research interests to respiratory physiology and began conducting work at White Mountain in California to investigate high-altitude physiology. Among his works is a 28-page examination of altitude sickness and a 64-page history of the regulation of breathing from ancient times to the end of World War II. The Ralph H. Kellogg papers include a White Mountain series devoted to research and laboratory material, photographs, and publications.

White Mountain, 5 miles north of Barcroft Laboratory, seen from the unpaved road along the intervening 13,000 ft. plateau, 1958. MSS 90-38, carton 25, folder 5.

Dr. Kellogg’s papers evidence a strong record of university service and camaraderie. Working through his papers, I’ve come across numerous thank you letters addressed to him in his correspondence and folders of committee work, including one labeled “Committee on Committees”!

UCSF Department of Physiology Halloween Party, 1969-10-31. MSS 90-38, box 3.

I’ve also arranged his carefully labeled photograph collection, a remarkable testament to his ability to appreciate people and acknowledge their contributions.

Dr. Kellogg’s detailed notes regarding participants in the Haldane Centenary Symposium, Oxford, July 1961. MSS 90-38, box 5.

Bighorn sheep, MSS 90-38, carton 25, folder 5.

I’ve found processing Dr. Kellogg’s papers inspiring. His work, ranging from offering editorial feedback to colleagues in the field to gathering historical research on leading figures in physiology to gazing at animals on a mountain top and riding in the back of a Jeep near Barcroft Lab at 13,000 feet, illustrates a fulfilled life dedicated to research and service.

Men in Jeep on road above Barcroft Lab, 1955-06-16. MSS 90-38, carton 25, folder 4.