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Welcome to another episode of #DeafHistorySeries!

A deaf & black man incarcerated Jim Crow South, Junius Wilson’s (1908-2001) life is a painful story of oppression & injustice.

(CW: eugenics, racism, Jim Crow South, r*pe, mental illness, sterilization, institutionalization) a banner showing a photo of an elderly black man in a striped shirt and red hat. on the right is a blue background with yellow text saying Deaf History Series with Dr. Jaipreet Virdi. Episode 3 Junius Wilson.
Junius Wilson was born in 1908 in North Carolina, to Mary & Sidney Wilson. The family lived in the predominantly African American community of Castle Hayne, a rural area on the outskirts of Wilmington.

Wilson was either born deaf or became so after a childhood illness. sepia tinted photo of a farm with trees.
In 1916, Wilson was sent to the North Carolina School for the Deaf & Blind. The school was segregated & without proper resources

By 1910, only hearing teachers were employed. Deaf children lacked proper language exposure so crafted their own "Black Signs" with regional dialect. black and white photo of a large brick building
Jim Crow laws restricted opportunities for black deaf children to interact with white deaf children & learn American Sign Language. Black signs were their only means of communication.

At the school, Wilson received a deaf culture identity, community, and heritage. Photo of a group of black children in a classroom paying attention to a teacher.
Eight years later, Wilson was expelled. He and his class attended the Negro State Fair, but he somehow left for two nights. The school administrators viewed this as disobedience: 16-year-old Wilson was demonstrating independence & challenged the white superintendent’s authority. Aerial photo of a state fair grounds.
At home, Wilson's deafness isolated him & was problematic for his family. He could not speak and his meaningful deaf behaviours—touching, yelling, holding people, stamping or waving his arms—could be perceived as threatening.

In Jim Crow, this could threaten his life as well. black and white photo of a town street showing buildings and some cars.
A year later, Wilson was accused of attempted rape of his African American neighbor, Lizzie Smith.

Wilson’s inability to respond, grunts & gestures, led the Judge to declare him mentally insane and sent him to the criminal ward at the Asylum for the Colored Insane in Goldsboro. black and white photo of a large hospital
In 1929, North Carolina passed “An Act to Provide for the Sterilization of the Mentally Defective & Feeble-Minded Inmates."

Under this racist eugenicist policy, Wilson was feebleminded & sexually perverted.

On 20 January 1932, Junius Wilson was sterilized and castrated. Photo of a stack of papers indicating letter of authorization for sterilization
After his castration, Wilson was removed from the criminal war and lived at the hospital farm, working on the Farm Colony to pay for his institutionalization.

In 1947, his father & sister visited to ask for his release, since Wilson was never formally charged. They were denied. black and white photo of the hospital grounds showing a farm area
The Asylum was renamed in 1959 to Cherry Hospital and desegregated by 1965.

Wilson moved freely on the grounds: he worked on the farm & spent time in the woods, making money by selling fishing worms to residents. He purchased snacks and bicycles, which gave him freedom. Photo of a yellow Schwinn bicycle resting against a white wall.
In 1960s, a new team assessed Wilson’s file. He was diagnosed as deaf-mute with no evidence of mental illness.

By 1975, the hospital learned criminal charges against Wilson were dropped. In an act of paternalism, they decided it was benevolent to keep him in the institution. black and white photo of Junius Wilson wearing pjs and a christmas hat
When John Wasson was appointed as Wilson’s new caseworker in 1990, he was horrified to discover that for 65 years, Wilson was committed without legal justification.

Wasson instigated for Wilson’s freedom.

On 26 October 1992, the State of California declared Wilson a free man. black and white photo of Wilson seated in a wheelchair
Junius Wilson’s case is a tremendous miscarriage of justice.

Wasson became Wilson’s guardian & secured counselling, interpreting, and medical care. Wilson was given a cottage on the grounds of Cherry Hospital & finally learned American Sign Language.

He died on 17 March 2001. Black and white photo of Wilson sitting on a sofa laughing
Further Reading:

Susan Burch & Hannah Joyner, UNSPEAKABLE: THE STORY OF JUNIUS WILSON (@uncpressblog, 2007)

@amhistcurator's article on Wilson's Bicycle
americanhistory.si.edu/blog/junius-wi…

ASL summary of Wilson's story by Toby Welch: black and white profile photo of Junius Wilson
*State of North Carolina
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