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NEWSLETTER | March 18, 2021

We explore the connection between history and today's headlines. Have an idea for us? Email or talk to us on Twitter @RetroReport. Please share this email with a friend.

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted racial disparities with roots in the past.

Racial Health Disparities Didn’t Start With Covid: The Overlooked History of Polio

KAREN M. SUGHRUE Senior Producer

Vaccines began to bring an end to polio in 1955, but – as with the Covid vaccine today – Black communities were slower to receive them.

The coronavirus pandemic has been twice as deadly for Black Americans than whites, and now Black and Hispanic Americans are lagging behind whites in receiving the Covid-19 vaccine.

But the little-known history of polio shows that racial and health disparities are not new. “One of the things that the history of polio tells us is that our racial disparities, health disparities were not invented in the past 10 years, and that very often, they have been deliberately ignored,” Naomi Rogers, a medical historian at Yale, told Retro Report.

During the polio outbreaks of the 1930s, white scientists had pushed the theory that Blacks were less susceptible to polio. But in fact, many cases of polio in Black victims went undiagnosed. A segregated medical system denied them access to adequate care, and the top treatment center, founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the nation’s most famous polio victim, admitted only white patients.

A fundraising effort begun in 1938 urged Americans to mail cards and letters, each containing a dime, to the White House. “There were a number of civil rights activists who began to protest that they were part of the March of Dimes, they were raising money, and they deserved to be able to have some of their children admitted to the top rehab center, especially as its patron was the president of the United States," Ms. Rogers said.

In the 1940s, under pressure from Black donors, the March of Dimes began building treatment centers open to all races, and training Black nurses and doctors.

In 1971, a Vietnam War protesters broke into an FBI office and stole hundreds of government documents.

Retro Report Recommends

The Retro Report team suggests articles, podcasts and videos that interest, impress and inspire us. Do you have a pick you'd like to share? Let us know:

. . . The end of a secret 
It's been 50 years since a group of anti-war activists broke into an FBI field office in Pennsylvania and stole hundreds of government documents, in a heist that exposed F.B.I. secrets. The break-in, which we explored in a Retro Report, above, helped expose the massive Cointelpro, or counterintelligence, operation that amassed files on anti-war activists, students, Black Panthers and Black citizens. None of the burglars was caught, but now another one of them has come forward.  “I’m extremely proud of what we did as a small group of people,” Ralph Daniel told The San Francisco Chronicle. “Something had to be done about the F.B.I. and J. Edgar Hoover and their intrusiveness to peaceful groups trying to get justice in this country.” [The San Francisco Chronicle]

The cover for the burglars' mission? The Ali-Frazier "Fight of the Century." [The Washington Post]

. . . Weighing one cost of activism
University of Texas athletes have pushed their school to disavow its past. Donors and alumni have not only racially taunted the school’s Black players, but also threatened to pull their financial support. [The Atlantic]

. . . Women who shaped the art world
In time for Women's History Month, profiles of five extraordinary women have inspired millions of viewers and shaped the art world over decades. [Forbes]

. . . A history podcast for children
Who were Sophie Blanchard and Willa Brown? This amusing history podcast introduces some lesser-known stories and historical figures. [The Past and the Curious]

. . . Obituary for a newsman
A staple of CBS, NBC and PBS, Roger Mudd was best known for his 1979 interview with Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who struggled to answer his simple question: “Why do you want to be president?” [The New York Times]

We Use History to Explain Our World, and We Show Why It Matters.

Retro Report is an Emmy Award-winning nonprofit news organization dedicated to uncovering the ways news of the past continues to resonate today. Our documentary videos blend original reporting and compelling archival footage to add history and context to the conversation around current events. We're currently working remotely, and we meet daily via Zoom, above.

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