The Story of CC459

Jasmine Mack,  Department of Biological Sciences, Troy University ’17

Ambra Palushi, Department of Family Science, University of Maryland 

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.

CC459 was an African American female born in Washington, DC in the early 19th century (1901).CC459’s birth date and month are unknown. She resided on Northwest Street in Washington, DC. The 19th century was a time when African Americans had to adjust to their newly found freedom from slavery (Maloney, Thomas). Sadly, African Americans did not reap the full benefits of being a citizen as whites did because of the lack of progress made from the mid-1800s to the 19th century. As segregation was at its peak, there was a significant gap between people of color and whites.  

African Americans were disadvantaged in areas such as the job market, education system, and home ownership. Facts reveal that about 50% of black men and 35% percent of black women reported that they worked on a farm as a laborer, however, only about 33% of white men and 8% of white women reported to working on farms as well (EHnet). According to the 1939 census report, black women averaged a mean income around $331.42 compared to the average pay of a white woman, which was around $771.69, which was quite a notable difference. Compared to the 1989 census report, black women were making an average of $15,319.29, which was a dramatic increase. However, they were still ranked the lowest paid group of all. (Maloney, Thomas) 

Based on Integrated Public Use Microdata Series Census 1900 and 1990, a vast number of African Americans were involved in jobs that did not require much skill because they were undereducated. A vast number of African American children had not even attended school. On the other hand, the white children had more than likely attended a school and would continue their studies in college. The percentage of whites attending school almost doubled those of African Americans. (Maloney, Thomas)

African Americans also did not have the privilege of home ownership. Typically an average African American family lived and worked on a farm owned by whites. Unfortunately, about one-fifth of African Americans owned their own homes, which was less than half the percentage of whites. As these facts show, African Americans were not treated with equality among whites. (Maloney, Thomas)

Unfortunately, CC459 developed degeneration of the spinal cord. Spinal degeneration affects the spine, brain, and nerves (“Subacute combined degeneration”). CC459 received an autopsy on February 4, 1952, which revealed that she suffered from a spinal disease referred to as degeneration of the spinal cord. She also suffered from encephalomalacia, which is the softening of the frontal lobe in the brain (“Encephalomalacia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment”). Spinal degeneration is the result of a lack of vitamin B12 in one’s diet (Corinna Underwood). Diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency is typically based on measurement of serum vitamins (“Subacute combined degeneration”). A test known as Schilling test is used in order to test for vitamin B12 deficiency (Corinna Underwood).  Based on research, spinal degeneration overall lead to CC459’s encephalomalacia. Symptoms of encephalomalacia include headaches, terminal coma, blindness, severe head spinning, or lack of movement coordination (“Encephalomalacia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment”)

We were unable to locate CC459’s information on any census reports; however, we can assume that she lived with someone else. The recession may have caused a lack of resources as well. We are uncertain if CC459 had an occupation. However, if she did work, research suggests that maybe CC459’s work life could have contributed to her illness. According to, there was a great need for cheap laborers for Northern employers (Maloney, Thomas). Since African Americans lacked education and were discriminated into lower income jobs, many became farm laborers. More than likely, CC459 decided to join the workforce as a laborer in order to earn an income. Although research does not include the kind of environment CC459 may have worked in, other facts suggests that CC459 could have worked in an atmosphere that requires a tremendous amount of manual labor such as lifting, bending, and twisting. Actions such as these could have caused her condition to worsen over time (“Spinal Degenerative Disease”). These working conditions may have eventually contributed to her death.  

Vitamin B12 is gained by consuming foods such as beef, liver, and most dairy products (“Foods Highest in B12”). CC459’s diet may have lacked these items. This deficiency of vitamin B12 leads to the abnormal buildup of fatty acids primarily around the spinal cord, but it could also affect the brain and peripheral nerves. The buildup of fatty acids causes the areas to become softer and the areas begin to lose their stability. Some symptoms of this spinal degeneration include abnormal sensations such as tingling or burning, sleepiness/drowsiness, change in mental state, depression, and decreased vision. (“Subacute Combined Degeneration”) 
CC459 checked into Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, DC to receive medical attention. Freedman’s Hospital, which was controlled by the federal government, became the first hospital to provide medical care for former slaves after its founding in 1862 in Washington, DC (“Freedman’s Hospital/Howard University Hospital”). This hospital became a refuge for the majority of disabled, aged, and freed African Americans. Poor whites were also going to Freedman’s Hospital to receive medical attention. Unfortunately, Freedman’s Hospital’s leadership team, in the beginning, was involved in several malpractices and misconduct. These acts were very common in low-income hospitals. The malpractice cases consisted of being charged with using the hospital service for selfish gains, along the lines of neglect and even embezzlement. Despite these awful circumstances, a few doctors and nurses working in this hospital continued to help serve the poor by providing treatment whenever possible. Soon states ruled that hospital care should be provided to everyone. In 1990, there were about 40 black hospitals operating across the country. (“Freedman’s Hospital/Howard University Hospital”)

Freedman’s Hospital was relocated from 13th and R Streets in Northwest Washington, DC to Bryant and 6th Street in 1909 (“Freedman’s Hospital/Howard University Hospital”). The older building still stands today and it is now known as the Howard University’s School of Communications. In order to preserve the history of the building, it has yet to be completely remodeled, with old hospital rooms still being located in the basement.  As for the new facility, it houses 278 state-of-the-art beds, which attracted many potential administrators. One of those administrators was Dr. Charles Drew who is well known for his exceptional blood plasma research. Dr. Drew eventually gained a leadership role and he successfully ran the hospital from 1941 until 1950. The hospital’s reputation was remarkable and it continued to grow in size. (Freedman’s Hospital/Howard University Hospital)

CC459 most likely visited this hospital because of how close it was to her home. CC459 was likely to have passed from degeneration of the spinal cord as a result of inadequate treatment or lack thereof. Through research, it’s unclear whether CC459’s death occurred due to failure of administering treatment on the hospital's behalf, affordability on her behalf, or availability/existence of treatment options during this time period. Sadly, CC459, age 51, passed away at Freedman’s Hospital in the year 1952. 

Societal conditions during CC459’s life are significantly different than modern day society. Today, African Americans are able to enjoy the luxury of having opportunities to advance, such as through higher education and availability of resources. According to Fast Facts, between 2000 and 2012, the percentage of college students who were Black rose from 11.7 to 14.9 percent (“National Center for Education Statistics”). Due to education, African Americans are able to compete in the workforce through accomplishments such as owning businesses, teaching, working for congress, in the healthcare field, and in a variety of other employment sectors. According to the 2012 U.S. Census Bureau report, a resounding 64% of African American women worked in “white collar” and 50% of African American men held “white collar” jobs (“Census ACS 2012”). Today, home ownership is available to all who can afford it regardless of race and gender. According to the 2012 U.S. Census Bureau report, African American home ownership has decreased from 46% to 42.5% between 2005 and 2012. This could have been contributed to the housing crisis, which caused many Americans to lose their homes due to foreclosure (“U.S. Census 2012 American Community Survey.”). 

Unfortunately, in modern day society, all Americans do not have access to healthcare and cannot receive the treatments offered now. According to FastStats 2012 report, the percentage of African Americans under the age of 65 with health care was 17.8% (“CDC/NCHS, National Health Interview Survey”.). Sadly, these people could be in the similar situation as CC459. Those individuals’ fate could be the same as CC459’s if left untreated. 

Interpreting the facts found through research, it shows that CC459 was born in a time period where blacks were not treated as citizens, but rather foreigners. CC459 had to work in an unsafe environment with low pay in order to survive. CC459’s illness may have been the result of an accident on the job that caused severe head trauma. We can assume she continued to work in order to sustain a standard of living, which led to negative progression of her health problems. We presume that by the time she took measures to see a physician her illness was rather irreversible.  

More than likely, if CC459 lived today, she would have received treatment for her spinal degeneration and encephalomalacia. In present day, CC459 may have endured a better standard of living where she would be presented with educational or employment opportunities that do not require intensive manual labor. Today, there are treatment options available such as physical therapy or spinal surgery (“Spinal Degenerative Disease”). If she were a member of society today, under good conditions, the likelihood of her developing this illness would be very low. Overall, CC459 would have been able to enjoy a less stressful life by being provided with more opportunities to advance in modern society, therefore leading her to live a healthier lifestyle and prevent her tragic illness. 


  1. “CDC/NCHS, National Health Interview Survey”. 2012.
  2. “Census ACS 2012.”
  3. “Corinna Underwood”. “Schilling Test”.
  4. “Encephalomalacia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment”. encephalomalacia-symptoms-causes-and-treatment.html
  5. “Foods Highest in B12”.
  6. “Freedmen’s Hospital/Howard University Hospital”.
  7. “Historic Medical Areas in Washington, D.C. Area.” 
  8. J Craniofac Surg. 2011 Nov;22(6):2374-5. doi: 10.1097/SCS.0b013e318231e511.
  9. Maloney, Thomas. “African Americans in the Twentieth Century”. EH.Net Encyclopedia.
  10. Robert Whaples. January 14, 2002. URL
  11. “National Center for Education Statistics”.
  12. “Spinal Degenerative Disease”.
  13. “Subacute combined degeneration”.
  14. “U.S. Census 2012 American Community Survey.” 

Jasmine Mack, a native of Linden, Alabama is currently a senior at Troy University in Troy, Alabama. There she majors in Biomedical Sciences and minors in Leadership Development. After completing her undergraduate studies, she plans to enter dental school to pursue orthodontics. In addition to her academic studies, Jasmine is also quite involved on campus and in her community. She serves as the president of Troy University’s Sparkle, a youth mentoring group created to motivate, encourage, and inspire middle school and high school girls to strive for their fullest potential. She was recently honored as one of Troy University’s Outstanding Student Leaders. Jasmine is also very active in her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. She serves as her chapter’s treasurer, sisterly relations chairperson, Connection’s chairperson, and the Ivy Leaf Reporter. Not only does she serve her campus, but Jasmine also works diligently in her community. She has volunteered at Charles Henderson Child Health Center, where she shadowed and assisted a pediatric dentist.  She has also volunteered at Troy’s Sav-A-Life, a pregnancy resource center that assists expectant mothers in meeting many of their needs.

Cobb Lab