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The History of the First Black Mental Health Clinic in America
The Lafargue Clinic was founded in 1946 by a group of black intellectuals and German-Jewish doctors. These activists joined together to answer a pressing need in New York -the need for psychiatric care for Black people. Blacks were historically denied access to clinics and hospitals that provided for the mental needs of the city. Further, black intellectuals argued that their communities suffered two-fold: having the psychological needs all people had, but also further needs fueled by the racism they experienced around them.
Led by American cultural figures like writers Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and photographer Gordon Parks, as well as the German-Jewish doctors Frederic Wertham and Hilde Mosse (who had fled Berlin after Hitler took power in 1933), the Lafargue Clinic was in the basement of a church. Using partitions, small rooms were formed for visitors seeking psychiatric care. The care was free, even though it had to be privately supported, as no New York City government agencies agreed to fund it. The Lafargue Clinic became the first clinic for psychiatric care for Black people in America. Its legacy continues today as The Northside Center for Child Development.
Register to join this presentation by Gabriel Mendes, author of Under the Strain of Color: Harlem's Lafargue Clinic and the Promise of an Antiracist Psychiatry (Cornell University Press, 2015). He will discuss the history of the Lafargue clinic, its importance in the history of public health, and its important role in the battles against school segregation.
Gabriel N. Mendes is Director of Public Health Programs at the Bard Prison Initiative. He has held academic positions at Emmanuel College, UC San Diego, and, most recently, Vanderbilt University, where he was Senior Lecturer at the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society. He was also Associate Director of the Higher Education Opportunity Program at Bard College and Director of the Men2B Program at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections. Mendes is the author of Under the Strain of Color: Harlem’s Lafargue Clinic and the Promise of an Antiracist Psychiatry (Cornell University Press, 2015), and he is currently writing his second book Through a Glass Darkly: Race and Madness in Modern America.
Mendes holds a Ph.D. in American Civilization from Brown University, an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from Hobart College.