PhD Candidate in History
Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?
I am currently finishing my dissertation, which examines the rise and perpetuation of the apartheid healthcare system, racial health disparity, and the black struggle for improved health and access to healthcare in New Orleans. I became interested in the topic due to living and working in New Orleans for most of the past decade. Like many other cities, healthcare has become one of the largest employment sectors in majority-black New Orleans, and yet, African American residents still suffer from much higher disease and mortality rates and less access to healthcare. I wanted to understand why these inequalities existed, with hope that my scholarship would provide historical insight to address the current problems. I utilize a social determinants of health framework to understand the issues, examining not only access to healthcare but other factors that affect health: access to education; neighborhood issues like crime and safety, housing quality and affordability, access to food, air and water quality, exposure to toxins and pollutants, access to recreation spaces, municipal services, proneness to flooding or other disasters; and other factors that negatively impact health. This also includes racial discrimination, which researchers have found to cause physical and mental health problems. My interest in this project reflects my previous work outside of academia. Prior to graduate school, I was a member of the national service organization AmeriCorps and a full-time Construction Supervisor with Habitat for Humanity. I want to use this project and other scholarship to address issues of social justice.
Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?
This semester I am teaching a course I designed, Black Healthcare History, which examines black health and healthcare from the country’s founding through the present. I based the class on a book chapter I wrote for a forthcoming edited volume titled Slavery to Liberation: The African American Experience, an open-access undergraduate textbook coming out this fall from Eastern Kentucky University. The students begin the semester looking at contemporary issues for African American health and healthcare: inequality in access; mistrust of the medical system; and disproportionate health issues like infant and maternal death and HIV/AIDS rates. We spend the semester chronologically exploring the historical factors, as well as African American efforts to provide care for themselves, often in light of official neglect and discrimination. I enjoyed designing the course, incorporating some of my favorite works in the field of African American health and medicine, including pieces by Harriet Washington, Sharla Fett, Jim Downs, Vanessa Northingon Gamble, Samuel K. Roberts, Keith Wailoo, and Alondra Nelson, among others. In addition to looking at the secondary literature, students will also analyze related primary sources, many of which I collected during my dissertation research. Finally, the students will be working on a digital history component through which they will examine and detail the historical black health and healthcare experience in New Orleans.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
Last year, I published “Flint Goodridge Hospital and Black Healthcare in Twentieth Century New Orleans,” in the Journal of African American History (Winter 2018), based on part of my dissertation research. I also have a forthcoming article in Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association on segregation and the civil rights fight in New Orleans parks and playgrounds; and I recently completed a book chapter that analyzes portrayals of black doctors in American television period dramas for a forthcoming book, Diagnosing History: Medicine in Television Costume Dramas (Manchester University Press, 2020). Beyond my work, I’m excited to read the forthcoming Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America by my advisor Dr. Marcia Chatelain; two new works on New Orleans, the edited volume Remaking New Orleans: Beyond Exceptionalism and Authenticity and Jeffrey S. Archer’s Murder in New Orleans: The Creation of Jim Crow Policing; the open access work Viral Networks: Connecting Digital Humanities and Medical History; and Marcus Anthony Hunter and Zandria F. Robinson’s Chocolate Cities: The Black Map of American Life.
What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies?
First, if possible, become involved in the community you are studying. I believe this helps you better understand your topic; plus, it’s extremely important to have activities outside of your academic work during your time doing research. Also, try to collaborate with local community members and organizations. Seek out opportunities to share your work in that community as well as learn from community members. Finally, as you’re doing your research, keep up with your fellow graduate students. I skype regularly with several of my graduate school colleagues, and it’s an important and sustaining connection for me.
You contributed to a history tour app and website – New Orleans Historical – while getting your Master’s at the University of New Orleans. How did your involvement in this project come about? What were the highlights of that experience?
I became involved in New Orleans Historical through my mentor in my master’s program at the University of New Orleans, Dr. Michael Mizell-Nelson. Dr. Mizell-Nelson started New Orleans Historical to tell the histories and stories of locations throughout the city, both well-known like Congo Square, as well lesser known but still significant locations. Michael had his students contribute their own sites and tours to the project, partially as a tool to teach public and digital history, and to help us engage with our city in a collaborative way. Michael was a digital history pioneer and a tireless advocate for telling the everyday stories of New Orleans. Sadly, Michael passed away five years ago at the age of 49—a true loss for the academic community and New Orleans—but I’m extremely proud to have my students in my Black Healthcare History course working on their own sites and tours for New Orleans Historical this semester. Michael was an incredible role model and mentor, and I want to honor his legacy by continuing his work.