In comparison with whites, few African-Americans were sent to insane asylums. Some asylums did not want to accept black patients at all, while others put black patients in separate wards. Some states created separate asylums entirely for the “colored insane,” apparently subscribing to influential alienist Thomas Kirkbride’s view that “colors and classes” should not be mixed in insane asylums.
The West Virginia Hospital for the Insane was fairly typical. Its board of directors recognized the need to provide care for “colored” patients, yet didn’t feel the asylum could accept them until it had room to separate the races. The asylum did begin to accept black patients sometime in the late 1880s, placing them in separate wards from whites. In 1893, the board of directors asked for $6,000 to build a colored hospital. Shamefully, this request was made even though the asylum only had 44 colored patients. In 1900, when the asylum housed 1,001 patients, only 68 of them were African-American.