In case no one has seen it before…,2845,MCA_25340_4757196,00.html

The babies are buried with a backhoe, as many as eight at a time, in homemade pine boxes.

Like a giant steel hand, the machine’s claw pats the soil as it covers the tiny coffins with dirt, tucking them in one last time.

Here at the Shelby County Public Cemetery, just outside the view of Memphis’s gleaming symbol of prosperity, Wolfchase Galleria, this 30-acre burial ground for the poor holds 14,000 bodies – most of them infants in graves marked only by numbers.

Caretaker Robert Savage, a gentle man with an unthinkable job, toils week after week with a modern-day plague.

Memphis has the highest infant mortality rate among the nation’s 60 largest cities. Babies here die at twice the rate of the national average.


Several Memphis ZIP codes have infant death rates higher than scores of Third World countries. North Memphis’ 38108, which includes the tattered communities of Douglass and Hollywood, is deadlier for babies than Vietnam, El Salvador and Iran.

Infant mortality is the barometer of a community’s ills: poverty, pollution, crime, lack of education, access to health care and safe, affordable housing.

In Memphis, the nation’s infant death capital for at least a decade, efforts to confront these problems have been small and splintered.

There has been no comprehensive effort to curb the problem.

Programs have come and gone as funding has come and gone.


Steve Cohen has been on it. We need a mayor dedicated to helping his efforts.

And for the record, it’s not “mothers behaving badly” (i.e. “crackheads” etc) causing it. It’s not “lack of access to healthcare”, either. (all of this was quite a shock to me)

From the full text of this:

(the footnote says:




*Address by Dr. Ronald David to Congressional Staffers of Congressman Steve Cohen, US House of Representatives, Washington, DC, USA, October 16, 2007. E-mail:







Mayor Caliguiri asked himself: How do we account for this paradox? Arguably, health care services in Pittsburgh were among the best in the nation and the world yet our infant mortality rates, especially for women of color, were abysmal. In response to the conundrum Mayor Caliguiri convened a consortium of civic leaders, including journalists, educators, social scientists, and labor and business executives. I was one of two physicians appointed to the consortium.

This is what we learned in Pittsburgh: The paradox was more apparent than real. Healthy pregnancy outcomes have little to do with access to health care. Moreover, the consortium found that contrary to conventional wisdom, poor pregnancy outcomes could not be attributed initially or primarily to ignorant, immoral, or irresponsible maternal behavior.

I want to repeat that slowly, deliberately, and succinctly: Poor pregnancy outcomes and infant mortality are not a consequence of poor prenatal care or mothers behaving badly.


He elaborates more later…




In summary, the Commission discerned three sturdy and interwoven strands of ideology running throughout the history of gathering and interpreting infant mortality data. The first strand that most explicitly continues to inform public policy today is the notion that pregnancy is a pathological condition, or so nearly so that it requires medical supervision.

The second strand lifted up for examination is distinctly misogynist and not so silently portrays women, especially women of color, as ignorant, immoral, and/or incompetent to the task of childbearing and childrearing. The third strand examined was the most subtle yet consistent and consistently ignored. That is, throughout the history of infant mortality studies an awareness is evident that toxic social relationships, social conditions, or both adversely affect maternal and child health.


In formulating a more comprehensive and complex perspective, the Commission turned to the concept of relationality. Relationality is a concept which asserts that human beings are by nature interdependent, relational beings. Anything that undermines the human experience of healthy relationships threatens growth and survival.

As one of the Commissioners poignantly summarized our understanding of infant mortality, babies are dying because their mothers are dying. Their mothers are in dead relationships.

Now, lest your minds race to images and fantasies of the dysfunctional black family let me hasten to clarify that the relationships about which the Commission speaks include, but greatly transcend, domestic relationships. Indeed, it is the Commission’s belief that domestic relationships are affected and infected by the culturally and socially toxic experiences of racism, misogyny and its attendant sexism, and income inequality that is itself a pale proxy for social inequalities more generally. These tears in the fabric of relationships are what make childbearing and child rearing such hazardous travails.




More can be read here.