Graham Mooney’s paper “Washington and Welch Talk About Race: Public Health, History, and the Politics of Exclusion”, has come out in the July 2015 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
This article shows how history can be used as a tool to influence political debate. Public health education over the radio became remarkably popular in the United States leading up to World War II. Lectures, monologues, round tables, question and answer sessions, and dramas were all used by health departments to communicate ideas and knowledge about preserving health. In Baltimore, Maryland, a radio series called Keeping Well began in 1932 and ran until 1957. From 1939, 15-minute weekly dramas were broadcast that adopted many of the tropes of contemporary entertainment programs. Some of these dramas were based on interpretations of past events and imposed a particular kind of narrative of medical and social progress that reflected the wider purpose of educational radio programming to uplift and reform listeners. This article demonstrates how public health administrators manipulated historical narratives and fictionalized history for their own purposes. This manipulation was particularly evident in regard to divisive issues such as residential segregation, whereby the public health dramas downplayed Baltimore’s troubled encounter with race and health.