The Story of CC 315

James M. Byrne III, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Maryland Baltimore County '17,  

Lopriela Seabrook, Department of Biology, Savannah State University ‘17

Editor’s Note     

This series of biographical sketches were authored by the 2015 class of the Howard University branch of AAMC’s Summer Medical Dental Enrichment Program at the W. Montague Cobb Research Laboratory. The students were assigned a Cobb Collection Individual and conducted research about that individual. The papers were reviwed by The Backbone Editorial Team and the name of the CC individual was redacted.

Washington, D.C. is customarily acknowledged for upholding past executive leaders, congressional legislative initiations, and judicial upbringings of the country. For centuries, however, the prestigious province has also been the home of countless societal movements, and renewal projects. It has also served as a refugee for manifolds of migrants, including CC 315 who was born in the District of Columbia in 1867. Upon her arrival, Jim Crow law manifestation and irrational segregation became the national ideals that would come to affect her for the rest of her life. CC 315’s unfortunate placement in society would limit her chances of success, represent her unequally under the law, dictate her residential location, and have an influence over her chances of survival. 

CC 315 resided at 210 F Street SW with her Virginian relative, who was born in 1892. The 1940 Census indicates that the relative was labeled as the head of the household while CC 315 was his roommate and labeled as the roomer. Although the relationship of the two is mistaken for kinship, they actually shared a common law marriage. This type of marriage was established when a man and a woman lived together for a certain amount of time and declared themselves as being informally married. This is a significant fact because CC 315 was originally widowed.

Listings of tracts from the 1940 U.S. Census, which are geographical regions where population data is collected, shows that Holmes lived in tract 60 of Washington, D.C. Tract 60 outlines a community referred to as the Southwest Waterfront. This area borders the south boundary of the Capitol mall, lies west of South Capitol street SW, east of 4th street SW, and north of M street SW. This area served as an affordable option of residence for the poorest Washingtonians after the Civil War. The waterfront had been strategically used as a commercial wharf but was abandoned by the military around 1865 after the war concluded. In the meantime, the area became settled by thousands of freed slaves and European immigrants who sought after the work opportunities along the waterfront. Around the 1900’s the government gained an interest in the waterfront and implemented plans to utilize the area by rebuilding old buildings and abandoned wharves, and widening streets that led to them (“Timeline”). Up until the 1950’s, the area continued to attract more settlers including African Americans who participated in the Great Migration to escape the effects of the crop destroying boll weevil and other economic factors in the rural South. Jim Crow laws, segregation, and prejudice followed blacks to the north as they became more urbanized. At least one and a half million African Americans resided in the north by the 1940’s (“The Second Great Migration”).

The vastly populating community eventually created divided neighborhoods that attracted white Irish, Scottish, and German people on the west of Fourth Street SW, and blacks on the east. The row houses on and around F Street, where CC 315 resided, had the cheapest rent prices that persisted well below the average cost of forty-five dollars in the 1940’s (“HCHT”).  Although the majority of the community was rather poor, the scenery of the area maintained its daily display of busy activities that included moderate traffic and street crossing pedestrians (Abrams). The beginnings of societal landscape shifting took place around the 1970’s when the government called for an urbanizing renewal project that would remove thousands of businesses and lead a countless number of residents into eviction (“Timeline”). This project soon modified the population into white predominance and nonetheless provided solutions for the concerns squalid neighborhoods remaining near the nation’s capital (Abrams). Large offices, expensive apartments, and other new features contradicted to poorer adjacent neighborhoods that only offered the view of tents and shacks as homes as a result of the changes (SW Heritage). After interstate 395 was built directly upon F Street Northwest during the process of renewal, CC 315’s home, as she knew it, had ceased.

It is important to note that CC 315 lived through the Great Depression. This historical event began with the crash of the New York Stock Exchange in 1929 and lasted until about 1939. During this time period, the unemployment rate skyrocketed to around 25% (Nelson). For blacks, the unemployment rate rose above 50% (Trotter). This means that it is very probable that CC 315 was exposed to extreme poverty; even more so than her white counterparts. Whites called for action stating that no black man could get a job until every white man was employed (Trotter). Though CC 315 chose not to work later in her life, the economic times during the Great Depression led to many black women being employed as house maids for only $5 a week (Trotter). Around this time, many African-Americans in this time period were supporting Republican president Herbert Hoover due to his views on emancipation. Under democratic President Franklin Roosevelt, many blacks were subject to discrimination through his introduction of the New Deal program. Certain programs that were part of the New Deal eliminated around 60% of African-American government paychecks and their benefits from social security programs (Trotter). Consequently, this led to African-Americans fighting for their rights through entities such as the NAACP. 

Records indicate that CC 315 died from burns at age 46 on August 26, 1943 at Casualty Hospital in the District of Columbia. The Cobb Lab’s records incorrectly indicate that she died at age 79. Logically, Holmes received care from Casualty Hospital around her time of death, which was federally funded by the government for those who could not pay for healthcare treatment (Pohl). In order for skin to be burned, it must be subjected to a heat source or a chemical source that damages the skin. There are different degrees of burns: first, second, and third. First-degree burns indicate only the outer layer of the skin was damaged. A second-degree burn affects the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis, and the layer below it, the dermis. The most severe burn, a third-degree burn, can result in complete destruction of the skin and even tissues below the skin such as muscle (“Burns Fact Sheet”).  Most burns will cause blisters, infection, and swelling, and if they were severe enough, they can even result in anaphylactic shock, or death. 

The skin acts as a protective layer for the human body and also allows for regulation of body heat. Therefore, burned skin is damaged and more prone to foreign materials entering the body and causing infection (“Your Skin”). During this time burn treatment was limited and lacked effectiveness. If 50% of a person’s body was burned it was likely that the accident would result in death. Doctors commonly used refrigerated skin from cadavers as a temporary dressing for burns around the 1940’s (“Skin Grafts”). Skin grafts were first used to treat burns in 1871, however the recipient’s immune system usually ended up rejecting the foreign skin. During the time of CC 315’s death, treatments for burns were rapidly changing due to the amount of soldiers in the World War II receiving burn wounds. Burns were treated by irrigating the wound with saline solution or by using Tannafax jelly, which contained some tannic acid (“WW2 Burns Survivor”). Tannic acid was the common treatments for burn wounds before the war until physicians realized it could lead to eradication of the skin. In Holmes’s case, since this was a time of racial inequality, it is likely that she did not get priority care. It is also very likely that she did not have access to the fairly new and lifesaving burn interventions. Some possible home remedies for burn injury that were probably used by those who could not afford health care included using: white vinegar to extract heat, natural honey for its pH balancing and antibiotic effects, a milk bath to soothe and heal the skin, essential oils from coconut or vitamin E to reduce scarring, and tea bags for retrieving small amounts of tannin acid (Shea). The condition of CC 315’s burns is presently unknown, which makes it difficult to determine whether or not these home remedies would have been beneficial for her. However, since the burns resulted in her fate, her condition must have been relatively severe or her burns could have been painfully infected.

Since there is a lack of explanation about the event of CC 315’s incident, one can assume that the burns she acquired may have been the result of a house fire. While the risks of American house fires have decreased tremendously over the past decades, studies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) show that socioeconomic factors such as poverty, under-education, race, and income lead to an increased risk of fire incidents. The 1997 National Fire Data Center states that vacant and abandoned buildings serve as fire hazards in poor neighborhoods by appealing to individuals who are likely to ignite illegal materials. It also recognizes the possibility of homeless people seeking to stay warm by making fires in these places during the winters. Furthermore, the report expresses the notion that low income indicates poor quality of housing with problems regarding heating systems, inadequate electrical wiring not suitable for excessive load, and malfunctioning plumbing issues. The report then goes on to state that a household with a lower income is considered less likely to invest in fire prevention devices such as smoke detectors, which decreased the number of deaths caused by late night fires by 25% between 1980 and 1990. The risks caused by overcrowded housing in poorer facilities is then discussed to be a fire hazard due to the expected “wear and tear” of appliances and larger numbers of possible victims in need of rescue. Lastly, the factor of under-education is linked to minorities less likely to be exposed to public fire safety education and less likely to read warning labels due to lower literacy rates (“SFIF”). The eighth grade graduate, CC 315, fits into these studies because she more than likely received support from Andrew Johnson’s low income and resided in an underprivileged neighborhood.

CC 315 would be admitted into the Burn Center MedStar Washington Hospital if she were a victim of severe burns today. Similar to the Casualty Hospital that admitted patients who could not afford treatment, MedStar ensures to provide quality care to patients underinsured or uninsured (“About the Burn Center”). Depending on her conditions, her treatment at MedStar could consist of retaining fluids through an IV to prevent dehydration, pain relievers such as morphine and anti-anxiety medications, decompression for blood circulation, tube feeding for nutritional purposes, breathing assistance, skin replacement or skin reconstruction, physical therapy for burns that may cover bone joints, and trustworthy penicillin antibiotics (“Diseases and Conditions”). Penicillin had been discovered years before Holmes’s hospitalization. However, the antibiotic was not yet made onto an industrial scale (“WW2 Burns Survivor”). Therefore, if Holmes had survived her accident, she would have faced amputations of bacterial infected body limbs.

CC 315’s story remains significant because there is a possibility that individuals currently living in settings similar to CC 315 could die from similar influences. When taking into consideration the predicaments of those who cannot afford healthcare or a good quality of living, the scenario is destined to repeating itself. Modern society must continue to search for solutions to address these problems and provide better outcomes for people like CC 315. ***


“About the Burn Center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.” MedSeek. MedStar Health, n.d. Web. 4 Jul. 2015.
Abrams, Amanda. “Southwest Waterfront: A Neighborhood Where a Change is Gonna Come.” UrbanTurf. Urban Turf LLC, 02 Dec. 2010. Web. 3 July. 2015.
“Burns Fact Sheet.” National Institute of General Medical Sciences. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 02 July 2015.
“Diseases and Conditions: Burns.” Mayoclinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, n.d. Web. 4 Jul. 2015.
“Historical Census of Housing Tables.” U.S. Census Bureau. Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, 31 Oct. 2011. Web. 06 Jul. 2015.
Nelson, Cary. “About the Great Depression.” The Great Depression. University of Illinois, n.d. Web. 02 July 2015.
Pohl, Robert. “Lost Capitol Hill: Casualty Hospital.” The Hill Is Home. The Hill Is Home, 27 Sept. 2010. Web. 03 July 2015.
Shea, Taylor. “11 Surprising Home Remedies for Burns.” Reader’s Digest. Reader’s Digest Association Inc, n.d. Web. 8 Jul. 2015. 
“Skin Grafts.” Brought to Life. Science Museum, n.d. Web. 02 July 2015.
“Socioeconomic Factors and the Incidence of Fire.” United States Fire Administration. Federal Emergency Management Agency, Jun. 1997. Web. 4 Jul. 2015.
“SW Heritage.” Welcome to Southwest DC. Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, 22 Oct. 2014. Web. 02 July 2015.
“The Second Great Migration.” InmotionAAME. New York Public Library, n.d. Web. 04 Jul. 2015.
“Timeline.” The Wharf. Hoffman-Madison Waterfront Inc., n.d. Web. 06 Jul. 2015.
Trotter, Joe W. “African Americans, Impact of the Great Depression on.” Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. Ed. Robert S. McElvaine. Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. 8-17. U.S. History in Context. Web. 3 July 2015.
“WW2 Burns Survivor.” The Blond McIndoe Research Foundation. The Blond McIndoe Research Foundation, n.d. Web. 02 July 2015.
“Your Skin.” Blond McIndoe Research Foundation. Blond McIndoe Research Foundation, n.d. Web. 02 July 2015.

Mr. James Byrne is a current Junior Biological Sciences major at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). James is from Brooklyn Park, MD and graduated from the International Baccalaureate Program at Meade Senior High School in Fort Meade, MD. Besides pursuing his interests in Biology, James is also pursuing minors in both Psychology and Spanish language & culture.  After graduating from UMBC, James will strive to obtain a M.D. and find a way to integrate his medical aspirations together with his keen interest in American politics and policy to impact the world around him in a positive manner.


Ms. Lopriela Seabrook ( is a junior undergraduate at Savannah State University majoring in Biology. She participated in the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program at Howard University the summer of 2015. Ms. Seabrook is currently involved in cell biology research that aims to discover the molecular causes of cancer and diabetes. She has completed her first semester of biomedical research as a Marc-U-Star scholar and has even had the opportunity to present her research at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students held in Seattle, Washington. Outside of the laboratory, Ms. Seabrook maintains a competitively high GPA while working as a resident assistant in an all-female dormitory. She is certain that the skills she has acquired in the laboratory, classroom, and dormitory, will eventually allow her to succeed in obtaining doctorate degrees in dentistry and oral biology research.

Cobb Lab