Course Unit | Session 6: Early Efforts to Combat Health Disparities

Session 6: Early Efforts to Combat Health Disparities


This session will look at state, regional and federal programs that helped create a public health infrastructure and gather vital statistics that helped document the degree of health disparities. Efforts by state and federal governments, private foundations, and public health officials and health professionals in meeting the public health needs of African Americans will be discussed.

Required Readings:

James Jones. Chapter 3, “Disease germs are the most democratic creatures in the world,” pp. 30-44. In: Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

Darlene Clark Hine. “The corporeal and ocular veil: Dr. Matilda A. Evans (1872-1935) and the complexity of southern history.” Jou South Hist 2004;70:3-34.

Stanley Rayfield. “A study of public health nursing.” In: Black Women in the Nursing Profession: A Documentary History, pp. 65-75.

Edward H. Beardsley. Chapter 6, “Blacks and southern public health establishment, 1900-1932, pp. 128 - 155. In: A History of Neglect.

Optional readings:

Edward H. Beardsley. Chapter 7, “The federal rescue of the southern health programs, 1933-1955, pp. 156 - 185. In: A History of Neglect.

Dummett, Clifton O. and Lois Doyle Dummett. Charles Edwin Bentley: A Model for His Times (St. Paul, Minnesota, North Central Publishing Company, 1982)


  1. What diseases commonly afflicted Blacks before World War II
  2. Were morbidity and mortality rates of Blacks higher than whites? Did these differences exist in the North and the South?
  3. When did people begin to realize Blacks and whites had different rates of illness and death? What causes were ascribed to these differences?
  4. What were some of the strategies proposed and provided to address these health disparities?  What arguments were made to justify money be spent to fund public health initiatives? To build TB sanatoria for Blacks? To expand Black hospitals? To fund programs to      train Black public health nurses?
  5. What barriers existed that prevented Black health professionals and public health officers from addressing health disparities?
  6. What types of health professionals were most engaged in addressing health disparities of African Americans living in rural areas? 
  7. Who originated preventive dentistry? Was oral health a problem among Blacks?