SOCIAL SCIENCES

Madness: Race and Insanity in a Jim Crow Asylum

Legacy Lit Jan. 2024. 368p. ISBN 9781538723692. $30. HIST
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Peabody- and Emmy-winning journalist Hylton (cohost of the podcast Southlake and Grapevine) documents the history of Crownsville Hospital in Anne Arundel County, MD. The author conducted her own investigation and scanned archival documents for 10 years to deliver this book that shows how the Jim Crow–era mental health facility, deemed a house of horrors, first came to exist after 12 Black men were forced to clear the land, build the asylum, and become its first patients. In its heyday, Crownsville Hospital had nearly 2,700 patients at a time. Hylton writes a scathing exposé on the bigotry that led to the mistreatment of hundreds of Black patients and the attempts to cover it up. Her book is also a call to action to reform the systems that treat people diagnosed with mental illnesses. The author dives deeply into sources that have been lost or held behind bureaucratic red tape to uncover the injustices that occurred at Crownsville Hospital.
VERDICT This well-researched title is an important chronicle of the treatment of Black Americans and their mental health during the Jim Crow era. Beyond promoting systemic change, Hylton compels readers to look within to assess how they treat and view the people around them.
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