Home—Takoma Park, MD. E-mail—[email protected]
Author and historian.
From Pity to Pride: Growing up Deaf in the Old South, Gallaudet University Press (Washington, DC), 2004.
(With Susan Burch) Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 2007.
Historian Hannah Joyner's works concentrate on the experience of deafness in the American South. From Pity to Pride: Growing up Deaf in the Old South examines the social and cultural aspects of deafness in the region before the Civil War. Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson, which she coauthored with Susan Burch, is the biography of an African American man in the twentieth-century South who was victimized not only because of his race but also because of his deafness.
From Pity to Pride, wrote Mark Stern in the Journal of Social History, directly confronts an ever-present problem for historians: how to recapture the history of groups or individuals who never had the opportunity to record their experiences for posterity. Joyner, Stern explained, chose to research the stories of deaf people after an operation to remove a brain tumor impaired her hearing. In particular, wrote Stern, she focuses From Pity to Pride on the question of "how the distinctive culture of the antebellum South influenced how hearing people viewed Deaf people," and she describes "the social and institutional world within which Deaf Southerners lived." Joyner discovered that the experience of deaf individuals differed depending on race; the experience of deaf whites was very different from the experience of deaf blacks. At the same time, however, the ways in which deafness was portrayed paralleled the ways in which African Americans were depicted. "Men from elite families typically stood at the top of the social pyramid, masters over a host of dependents that included African Americans, poor whites, women, and—previously overlooked by historians—people with disabilities," declared Paul K. Longmore in the Journal of Southern History. "But for these elite young white men being deaf cast them as inferiors and dependents instead of masters." Longmore concluded: "Thus, the discourse of deafness paralleled the discourse of race."
Unspeakable recounts the story of one deaf man and the ways in which the perception of deafness manipulated his life. Junius Wilson spent over three-quarters of a century in a North Carolina state hospital because he was deaf. At the age of seventeen he was accused by a neighbor of attempting to rape the neighbor's wife. As a result of his inability to communicate, he was forcibly castrated, sent to an institution, and set to work for most of the rest of his life, even during a period when the Civil Rights movement won new liberties for most African Americans. "Wilson's every action," declared Vanessa Bush in Booklist, "was misinterpreted to his detriment." "In many ways," Rachel Bridgewater wrote in Library Journal, "his story is also the story of race, bigotry, disability, and mental illness in 20th-century America." "Of course, no one person is solely to blame for what happened to Junius Wilson," stated Washington Post contributor Amy Alexander. "Yet the overwhelming injustice done to him is mind-boggling, and Burch and Joyner have told his story with thoroughness and passion."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 15, 2007, Vanessa Bush, review of Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson, p. 11.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, March 1, 2005, J.Z. Rabun, review of From Pity to Pride: Growing up Deaf in the Old South, p. 1288.
Journal of American History, September 1, 2005, Robert M. Buchanan, review of From Pity to Pride, p. 605.
Journal of Social History, June 22, 2006, Mark Stern, review of From Pity to Pride, p. 1223.
Journal of Southern History, November 1, 2005, Paul K. Longmore, review of From Pity to Pride, p. 890.
Library Journal, December 1, 2007, Rachel Bridgewater, review of Unspeakable, p. 132.
Washington Post, November 13, 2007, Amy Alexander, "A Tale of Horror in Black and White."