Night Doctors

Since at least the 1800s, black oral history has been filled with tales of “night doctors” who kidnapped black people for research … To discourage slaves from meeting or escaping, slave owners told tales of gruesome research done on black bodies, then covered themselves in white sheets and crept around at night, posing as spirits coming to infect black people with disease or steal them for research.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, pg. 165-166

Night Doctors, also known as night riders, night witches, Ku Klux doctors, and student doctors are bogeymen of African American folklore who emerged from the realities of grave-robbing, medical experimentation, and intimidation rumors spread by southern whites to prevent workers from leaving for the north.

  • A Page from Black History: the 1897 St. James Dispensary Riot (The Defenders Online) February 11, 2011.
    The last decade of the 19th century witnessed full-scale race riots in Omaha, Nebraska, Wilmington, North Carolina, Lake City and Greenwood County, South Carolina, and Newburgh, New York. These incidents involved beatings, lynching, labor disputes, a political coup d’etat, rumors of black men raping white females, and widespread property destruction.

  • Viewpoint: Jim Crow, M.D. - Segregated medicine leaves legacy (The Commercial Appeal) January 9, 2011.
    By almost any measure, health care is worse for black people than white people in what some regard as a lingering consequence of slavery.

  • Renewing Trust in Regular (Allopathic) Medicine and Research (Selam International) Spring 2007.
    In US academic health centers, inequality reigns at many levels. At the physician level after one and a half centuries of trying, females are entering medical schools at comparable or higher percentages than males. However, males still predominate in academic health center positions of upper administration and as senior faculty. At the patient level, inequities exist in the recipients of services. Some racial and ethnic groups are highly underrepresented in the patient population, not only as recipients of health services but also as the focus of research. The purpose of this article is to uncover some of the history leading to racial inequities in patient populations, to extend the discussion to inequities in advancement opportunities for women in academic health and to provide suggestions for improvement.

  • The Poor, the Black, and the Marginalized as the Source of Cadavers in United States Anatomical Education (Clinical Anatomy) 2007.
    When the practice of hands-on anatomical dissection became popular in United States medical education in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, demand for cadavers exceeded the supply. Slave bodies and thefts by grave robbers met this demand.

  • Slavery and medicine: enslavement and medical practices in antebellum Louisiana
    (Taylor & Francis) 1998.
    This study re-evaluates the field known as Negro/Slave Medicine, which has traditionally focused on the efforts of slaveowners to provide medical care for their slaves, addressing the slaves' proactive management of medical care; brutality as a cause of the constant need for medical attention; and the health risks posed by arduous agricultural labor. This groundbreaking study offers insight into the health problems facing enslaved people, their attempts to deal with the causes and effects of illness and injury, and the slave owners' attitudes toward the medical treatment of slaves. The appendices present valuable data on the medical treatment of enslaved African Americans from the Touro Infirmary Archives that have never before been published.

  • Night Riders in Black Folk History book cover.Night Riders in Black Folk History (University of North Carolina Press) 1975.
    During and after the days of slavery in the United States, one way in which slaveowners, overseers, and other whites sought to control the black population was to encourage and exploit a fear of the supernatural.