17 June 2022
National University of Health Sciences Juneteenth Display.

2022 marks the first year that Juneteenth will be recognized as a federal holiday.

As an academic health science library, I wondered how we could provide an appropriate context for our diverse university community.

The inspiration came from an unexpected as well as controversial source: J. Marion Sims, “father of gynecology,” whose innovations resulted from experimentation on enslaved women.

I was aware of Dr. Sims through classroom discussions as well as through recorded talks available through the National Library of Medicine (What History Reveals: Slavery and the Development of U.S. Gynecology).

The NLM History Talks also provided further areas where slavery contributed or inspired to our knowledge and beliefs about health and medicine (e.g., The Measure of Black (Un)Fitness: Legacies of Slavery in the Early Eugenics Movement).

But I also realized that we had books in our collections that detailed the many contributions that enslaved people in America had made to our understanding of herbal medicine, diet and other therapeutic practices.

For example, the use of inoculation in the Boston smallpox outbreak of 1721-1722 is often attributed to Cotton Mather but the actual source was a slave.

Every month, I create a display, usually based on national observances. I decided that June 2022 would be dedicated to Juneteenth.

As a new federal holiday, Juneteenth is still not well understood by many people. In fact, some of our students were unaware that the school and the library would be closed. So it seemed even more important that the library should take the lead in informing our community and promoting a deeper appreciation for its significance.

Our display features informational handouts, a bibliography, books from our collections, and a selection of articles on the contributions of enslaved persons in America. Our library director, Pat Genardo, discovered that the dollar stores carried some amazing Juneteenth decorations. I hope that all libraries will find their own way to observe this new federal holiday and to promote libraries as venues to honor its historical significance.

Please contact me for further information or to obtain copies of our handouts and bibliography.

Today's guest blog post is by Russ Iwami. Russ is the Reference Librarian at the National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, Illinois. For handouts and bibilography, you can contact Russ at riwami@nuhs.edu.