Administrations of Lunacy: Race, Psychiatry, and Georgia’s State Hospital
NHC Fellowship, 2017–18
Segrest graduated summa cum laude from Huntingdon College in 1971 and received her M.A. and Ph.D. from Duke University in Modern British Literature in 1979. She taught at Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC, during and after completing graduate work. During this period she became active in lesbian-feminist political and cultural work in North Carolina and nationally. My Mama’s Dead Squirrel: Lesbian Essays on Southern Culture (Firebrand Books, 1985), collects her work from this period.
She left the academy in the early 1980s to work full-time in social movements for the next decade. She helped to found North Carolinians Against Racist and Religious Violence and worked in that organization from 1983 to 1990 to rally citizens of the state against virulent neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan activity and an epidemic in hate violence. Segrest’s 1995 book, Memoir of a Race Traitor, narrates this experience. It was named an Outstanding Book on Human Rights in North America and was Editor’s Choice for the Lambda Literary Awards.
Segrest worked for the World Council of Churches, the Geneva-based Protestant ecumenical organization that represents over 300 million people worldwide, as Coordinator of the US Contact Group of the WCC’s Urban-Rural Mission from 1992 to 2000. URM brought together community organizers and religious-based activists in regional and global networks.
Segrest’s third book, Born to Belonging: Writings on Spirit and Justice, was published by Rutgers in 2002. In it she uses travel memoirs in a search for alternatives to the apartheid of her Southern childhood, negotiating history, philosophy, theology, autobiography and reporting on a search for of an understanding of Ubuntu, an African word for belonging, as a different starting point for our economic, political and cultural systems. Chandra Talpade Mohanty calls Born to Belonging “brave, luminous, groundbreaking … at once theoretical and deeply intimate.” Barbara Smith says that it is “an indispensable political and ethical guidebook to the twenty-first century.”
Becky Thompson calls Segrest “one of the leading political and ethical thinkers of our time.” Segrest is co-editor with Jacqui Alexander, Lisa Albrect and Sharon Day of Sing, Whisper, Shout, Pray: Feminist Strategies for a Just World, a collection of essays by Edgeworks Press (2003).
Segrest has founded, served on the boards of, and consulted with a wide range of social justice organizations over the past twenty-five years. She has spoken on college and university campuses and at national and international conferences, including giving a plenary address at the Fourth World Conference on Women’s NGO Forum in Beijing in 1995. She served on the Board of the Center for Democratic Renewal from 1985 to 1998, and helped to write their manual, “When Hate Groups Come to Town.” Segrest was invited to write a chapter on “visibility and backlash,” one of four chapters in “A Question of Equality,” a companion volume to a four-part PBS series on lesbian and gay rights published by Scribner in 1995.
- NHC Podcast: “A Metahistory of Suffering: Race, Lunacy, and Psychiatry in Milledgeville, Georgia,” April 18, 2018
- NHC Humanities Moment: “Sometimes You Just Need to Keep Reading”
- Segrest, Mab. “Exalted on the Ward: ‘Mary Roberts,’ the Georgia State Sanitarium, and the Psychiatric ‘Speciality’ of Race.” American Quarterly 66, no. 1 (2014): 69–94.
- Segrest, Mab. “‘Drag You Off to Milledgeville’: Southern Space as Psychiatric Space.” In Queer South Rising: Voices of a Contested Place, edited by Reta Ugena Whitlock, 155–76. Landscapes of Education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2013.
- Segrest, Mab. “The Milledgeville Asylum and the Georgia Surreal.” Southern Quarterly 48, no. 3 (Spring 2011): 114–50, 158.
- Segrest, Mab. Born to Belonging: Writings on Spirit and Justice. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002.
- Segrest, Mab. Memoir of a Race Traitor. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1994.
- Segrest, Mab. My Mama’s Dead Squirrel: Lesbian Essays on Southern Culture. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books, 1985.
- Segrest, Mab. Living in a House I Do Not Own. Durham, NC: Night Heron Press, 1982.