Claire Strom


Beryl Oates* was nineteen years old when Deputy Sheriff James Allen Black arrested her just after 10:00 am on a Saturday morning in February 1944 on suspicion of having a venereal disease. She was detained until she could be seen by Doctor and Captain Solomon Kolack who worked for the US Public Health Service as the disease control officer for Orange County, Florida. When he saw her, Kolack would have tested Beryl for syphilis and, if she tested positive, she would have probably been confined in the rapid treatment center in Ocala for a lengthy and painful course of arsenic injections. Under the provisions of a new state health law, she could be held for three to five days by the police without habeas corpus and then, if infected, "sent to the State Hospital at Ocala for treatment until cured." Without the money to hire her own doctor, and because she was a black woman living under the caste system of Jim Crow, she would have had little recourse to prevent this high-handed treatment.1