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APA Foundation Library Hosting Exhibition, Town Hall for Black History Month on Central State Hospital

  • February 07, 2022

The American Psychiatric Foundation’s Melvin Sabshin, M.D., Library and Archives is hosting an exhibition and a virtual town hall on the history of Central State Hospital, the first mental health care facility for African Americans in the country.

The exhibition, which includes primary source documents, photographs, public laws, news articles, and admission and treatment data from Central State Hospital’s records, is available in person and online through July 31, 2022. A virtual town hall with historian and Central State Hospital expert King Davis, Ph.D., will be held on Feb. 22, at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time.

“The history of Central State Hospital is part of the untold history of America, the APA and the field of psychiatry,” said Rawle Andrews Jr., executive director of the APA Foundation. “Taking ownership of this history is an important step toward atoning for the harm to Black patients and their families who did not get the care or compassion they deserved. APAF Library is pleased to have partnered with Dr. Davis to raise awareness of Central State’s story and the lives it impacted.”

Davis said: “It has taken over a century to reach the point where we can openly examine the policies, practices, and beliefs about race and access to mental health care. The history of the Central Lunatic Asylum for the Colored Insane offers the mental health disciplines an opportunity to apply what we have learned from the recent past. The Friends of Central State Hospital are pleased to have been able to collaborate with the APA Foundation to tell this part of the story.”

Central State Hospital, formerly known as the Central Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane, opened in 1870 in Petersburg, Va. At the time, strict racial separation and medical disparities were ubiquitous throughout Virginia. Meanwhile, APA’s forerunner, the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane, played a central role in setting segregation policies in mental hospitals.

Rather than integrate its two existing asylums, Virginia’s governor and the Freedmen’s Bureau agreed to house all “insane” Black people in a former confederate hospital due to an alleged lack of sufficient space. The decision to open a separate institution for Black people was also based on a series of hypotheses that created a false connection between Blackness, freedom from enslavement, and the risk of psychiatric illness.

More on the history of Central State is available in the exhibition, which was directed by APAF Librarian Deena Gorland, M.S.L.I.S. Town hall registration is open to the public, who can also learn more from an article by Davis on the history of the asylum in Psychiatric News. For more information on efforts to save Central State Hospitals archives visit To visit the exhibit in person, email [email protected].

American Psychiatric Association

The American Psychiatric Association, founded in 1844, is the oldest medical association in the country. The APA is also the largest psychiatric association in the world with more than 37,400 physician members specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and research of mental illnesses. APA’s vision is to ensure access to quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. For more information please visit

American Psychiatric Association Foundation

The American Psychiatric Association Foundation is the philanthropic and educational arm of APA. The APA Foundation promotes awareness of mental illnesses and the effectiveness of treatment, the importance of early intervention, access to care, and the need for high-quality services and treatment through a combination of public and professional education, research, research training, grants, and awards

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