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Antonia Hylton at The Cambridge Public Library presenting “Madness: Race and Insanity in a Jim Crow Asylum” in conversation with JESSE MCCARTHY

February 1 @ 6:30 pm

 |  Free – $31.88


February 1
6:30 pm
Free – $31.88
Event Categories:


Cambridge Public Library
449 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02138 United States
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Harvard Book Store
(617) 661-1515

Madness : Race and Insanity in a Jim Crow Asylum

Harvard Book Store welcomes ANTONIA HYLTON—Peabody and Emmy-award winning journalist at NBC News—for a discussion of her new book Madness: Race and Insanity in a Jim Crow Asylum. She will be joined in conversation by JESSE MCCARTHY—author and assistant professor in the departments of English and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.


RSVP for free to this event or choose the “Book-Included” ticket to reserve a copy of Madness: Race and Insanity in a Jim Crow Asylum and pick it up at the event. Antonia will sign copies of her new book at the event.

About Madness

On a cold day in March of 1911, officials marched twelve Black men into the heart of a forest in Maryland. Under the supervision of a doctor, the men were forced to clear the land, pour cement, lay bricks, and harvest tobacco. When construction finished, they became the first twelve patients of the state’s Hospital for the Negro Insane. For centuries, Black patients have been absent from our history books. Madness transports readers behind the brick walls of a Jim Crow asylum.

In Madness, Peabody and Emmy award-winning journalist Antonia Hylton tells the 93-year-old history of Crownsville Hospital, one of the last segregated asylums with surviving records and a campus that still stands to this day in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. She blends the intimate tales of patients and employees whose lives were shaped by Crownsville with a decade-worth of investigative research and archival documents. Madness chronicles the stories of Black families whose mental health suffered as they tried, and sometimes failed, to find safety and dignity. Hylton also grapples with her own family’s experiences with mental illness, and the secrecy and shame that it reproduced for generations.

As Crownsville Hospital grew from an antebellum-style work camp to a tiny city sitting on 1,500 acres, the institution became a microcosm of America’s evolving battles over slavery, racial integration, and civil rights. During its peak years, the hospital’s wards were overflowing with almost 2,700 patients. By the end of the 20th-century, the asylum faded from view as prisons and jails became America’s new focus.

In Madness, Hylton traces the legacy of slavery to the treatment of Black people’s bodies and minds in our current mental healthcare system. It is a captivating and heartbreaking meditation on how America decides who is sick or criminal, and who is worthy of our care or irredeemable.

Praise for Madness

Madness is an all-too-true story, tirelessly and comprehensively reported, of the reinstatement of antebellum conditions under the guise of mental-health treatment — an asylum for so-called ‘feeble-minded’ Blacks that was, in fact, little more than slavery by another name. Antonia Hylton’s sensitive, searching account of the people forever changed by this place — and its very clear, dreadful connection to today’s carceral state — will leave you dumbfounded.” —Robert Kolker, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Hidden Valley Road

“Antonia Hylton expertly weaves together a moving personal narrative, in-depth reporting, and illuminating archival research to produce a book that left me breathless. Madness is a haunting and revelatory examination of the way that America’s history of racism is deeply entangled in our mental health system. A profoundly important book that helps us make sense of an underexamined aspect of our country’s history.” —Clint Smith, New York Times bestselling author of Above Ground and How the Word is Passed

Madness is a necessary and unforgettable book. It is a particular story of a Jim Crow institution that devastated the lives of many suffering Black Americans, but it is also a collective story about how mental health care is a social justice issue, and a personal story about love, loss, and holding onto loved ones through the ravages of living. With powerful and vulnerable writing, alongside diligent research, Hylton has delivered an important and timely work.” —Imani Perry, National Book Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of South to America