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Remembering Those Sent To Crownsville Hospital

Jack Says Relax / Flickr / Creative Commons

What became Crownsville Hospital Center started as farmland in Anne Arundel County and then, after the state bought the land in 1910, was known as the "Hospital for the Negro Insane of Maryland." Its patients or inmates included not only the mentally ill, but also blacks with mental disabilities, epilepsy or syphilis. Historians have chronicled grim conditions during Crownsville’s first five decades. Janice Hayes-Williams, a local historian who has looked carefully at death records from Crownsville, described the state hospital on WYPR’s The Signal in 2012: “This was the place you did not want to go, this was the place you were sent when no one else wanted you, this was the place you went when there was no other place to go.”

Crownsville was not integrated until the 1960s. At its most crowded, in the mid-1950s, about 2,700 black inmates lived at Crownsville, double what it had been built for. Over the years hundreds of inmates died there, and many were buried in its little cemetery. Recently, a new set of eyes have been examining those graves. The Phi Theta Kappa honor society at Howard Community College wanted to understand what Crownsville can tell us today about the concept of “separate but equal.” With us to talk about what they found are two students, Jonathan Schuster, and AliceJoy Thomas. Also with us is their advisor, Laura Cripps, Acting Chair of Social and Cultural Sciences and Associate Professor of Anthropology at Howard Community College.

You can read the letter sent to Gov. Martin O'Malley about Crownsville from the ACLU of Maryland, the Maryland NAACP, and the Maryland Disability Law Center.

The Signal spoke with Janice Hayes-Williams in 2012. You can hear that interview here.

Listen to our May 2008 conversation about Crownsville with Janice Hayes-Williams.

More of our interview with Professor Cripps, Jonathan Schuster, and AliceJoy Thomas.

Sheilah Kast is the host of On The Record, Monday-Friday, 9:30-10:00 am.