Pub. Date:
The University of North Carolina Press
Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson / Edition 1

Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson / Edition 1

by Susan Burch, Hannah Joyner


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Junius Wilson (1908-2001) spent seventy-six years at a state mental hospital in Goldsboro, North Carolina, including six in the criminal ward. He had never been declared insane by a medical professional or found guilty of any criminal charge. But he was deaf and black in the Jim Crow South. Unspeakable is the story of his life.

Using legal records, institutional files, and extensive oral history interviews—some conducted in sign language—Susan Burch and Hannah Joyner piece together the story of a deaf man accused in 1925 of attempted rape, found insane at a lunacy hearing, committed to the criminal ward of the State Hospital for the Colored Insane, castrated, forced to labor for the institution, and held at the hospital for more than seven decades. Junius Wilson's life was shaped by some of the major developments of twentieth-century America: Jim Crow segregation, the civil rights movement, deinstitutionalization, the rise of professional social work, and the emergence of the deaf and disability rights movements. In addition to offering a bottom-up history of life in a segregated mental institution, Burch and Joyner's work also enriches the traditional interpretation of Jim Crow by highlighting the complicated intersections of race and disability as well as of community and language.

This moving study expands the boundaries of what biography can and should be. There is much to learn and remember about Junius Wilson—and the countless others who have lived unspeakable histories.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807831557
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 11/19/2007
Edition description: 1
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.06(d)

About the Author

Susan Burch has taught history at Gallaudet University; Charles University, Czech Republic; and the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She is author of Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History, 1900 to World War II. Hannah Joyner is an independent scholar and author of From Pity to Pride: Growing Up Deaf in the Old South.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Unspeakable is to be commended for embracing the complexity of Junius Wilson's story and for a sensitive but unflinchingly honest portrait of his life. What emerges is a revelatory piece of historical writing and biography that gets at Mr. Wilson's life and the social forces of his era from many different points of view, none of them predictable, all of them thought-provoking, many of them unsettling. This is an extraordinarily important book.—David Cecelski, coeditor of Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy

Susan Burch and Hannah Joyner deserve appreciation from deaf people and other advocates for their highly successful description about the importance of diversity among human groups. The authors' honest and well-balanced description of Junius Wilson's life and the different views of professionals will certainly turn a new page in the professional perspectives of health and social studies.—Yerker Andersson, Ph.D., LL.D.; Former Chair, Deaf Studies Department, Gallaudet University

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