This study examines the "Spanish" influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 in the U.S. South, using case-studies of Jacksonville, Savannah, New Orleans, and Nashville to sculpt a "Southern flu" more identical to the Global South and the developing world than the rest of the U.S. I examine poverty and political and economic paralysis in the years between the end of Reconstruction and 1918, and the poor results of political indifference on public health and disease control. I also analyze the social and institutional racism against persons of color that defined high infectious disease mortality in Southern cities.
I argue that Southerners faced higher flu mortality than other parts of the country due to the regional poverty and public health underdevelopment that defined previous diseases and made the South distinct in the national epidemiological narrative, namely through yellow fever, malaria, hookworm, and pellagra. I also challenge the conventional orthodoxy by arguing that within the South, African Americans faced exorbitant mortality rates compared to whites. I argue against the myth of a democratic killer flu, but rather, the existence of deep social inequalities and inequities that furthered mortality among the impoverished and marginalized. I argue that the pandemic was like most epidemics and pandemics in Western history, in that it disproportionately killed minorities and those without access to medical care and social services due to conducive social architecture. While pestilence shapes societies, societies simultaneously shape the course of pestilence.
This study is divided into five chapters. An introductory chapter examines the scholarship and Southern public health before 1918. The second chapter addresses the pandemic in Jacksonville and Savannah, the third chapter examines New Orleans, and the fourth chapter assesses Nashville. A concluding chapter compares the U.S. South with the Global South, tethering the U.S. South to the global pandemic.
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
Kishuni, Andrew, "Pestilence and Poverty: The Great Influenza Pandemic and Underdevelopment in the New South, 1918-1919" (2020). Honors Undergraduate Theses. 725.