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HLTC02H3 Chapter Notes -Intersectionality, Macon County, Alabama, Darlene Clark Hine

Health Studies
Course Code
Denis Maxwell

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Week # 10: “Reflections on Nurse Rivers” by Darlene Clark Hine
Black Women in White
“To make a difference” this was a both a slogan and an enduring motivator for black nursing
professionals in order to survive
Belief that nurse should be a patient advocate
Major Motivations for black women to become nurses parental prodding, head-on
collisions with racial discrimination (?) and desire to reduce suffering
Nurses are usually the first point of contact between patients and the health care system
within southern communities, their responsibility to shape and lay a solid foundation for
future medical professional client relationship
Requirements: broad sympathies, profound understanding and tact and possess the
requisite professional background
Focus of article the experiences of Nurse Rivers who had been recently hired at the
Alabama’s Macon County Moveable School, she trained at the Tuskegee Institute
o Duty: Teach rural tenant farmer families basics
o Then became nurse at Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment in Macon County, Alabama
Very strategic and successful as a nurse gaining the confidence and trust of
local rural Black farmers and their families - used patience, respect and
admiration to serve the people in the community
Convinced men to participate in the syphilis experiment, longer than they
should have.
She felt experiment was good and honorable though
Rivers enjoyed being the go between doctor and patient and being a patient advocate
Her relationship with white health care professionals and black community is questionable
as many black men would not have been participating in this study as long as they should
have especially given the detrimental and ethically bankrupt nature of it
Their unquestioning faith in Rivers prompted them to continue because they believed she
had their best interests at heart she did but she was woefully mistook the detrimental
impact of a such study where treatment was consciously withheld from patients
River’s motives are complex
o Perhaps she thought at least some blacks received unpatrolled amount of attention
from medical community
o She was trained to follow orders it probably didn’t come to her to question
doctor’s judgment
o Incapable of judging the scientific merits of the study
o Living in a patriarchal society in a male dominated field such as medicine, there was
a normalized deference to male authority figures that reinforced her ethical
o Rivers was black and the physicians were white racialialized feelings of
subordination may have been instilled in work environment, remnants of servitude
and deference even in a post-slavery time period
Nurse Eunice Rivers, Tuskegee Syphilis and the Problematic of African American Womanhood
Tuskegee Syphilis Study has become a symbol of black vulnerability in a white-dominated,
capitalistic, patriarchal society metaphor for the multiple stratifications along the race,
class, sex and regional grids in 20th century
Nurse Rivers is neither a victim or a villain not just a complicit “Mammy”
Too often there is a emphasis on race relations while forgetting the impact of the
intersectionality of class and gender on top of this
Southern context of Tuskegee Syphilis Study was centered around black disease, poverty,
and racial exploitation
Important correctives to conventional misinformation
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