The Lafargue Mental Health Clinic, housed in two rooms of the parish house basement at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Harlem, was open from 1946 to 1958. Named for the French Marxist physician, Paul Lafargue, it was conceived by German-American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, whose focus was on the dire state of mental health services in the Black community in New York.
The Lafargue Clinic was the first of its kind in Harlem – a pay-as-you-wish, anti-racist mental health clinic. It pioneered a form of social medicine that linked patients’ medical needs with the struggle for housing and economic justice.
Maysles Documentary Center will preview Made in Harlem: The Lafargue Clinic Remixed, a series of films, talks, and seminars on the legacy of this groundbreaking Harlem institution and its impact today on radical healthcare organizing, mutual aid, and collective wellbeing. The series is curated by Kazembe Balagun, presented by Maysles Documentary Center, and is supported by West Harlem Development Corporation and The Ralph and Fanny Ellison Charitable Trust. Lafargue Clinic was founded by Reverend Sheldon Hale Bishop, and will be on view to June 15, 2024.
“Richard Wright, Fredric Wertham and Reverend Hale Bishop embarked on a bold experiment for the personal, social, and economic liberation of African Americans in the face of organized abandonment.” says Kazembe Balagun. “I hope these films act as ‘reusable history’ for social workers, activists, and public policy makers—especially now when there is so much debate over mental health services, the homeless, and policing in our country.”
The films in this series look to highlight the cost of white oppression on the Black psyche starting with Richard Wright’s NATIVE SON and following with Issac Julien’s FRANTZ FANON: BLACK SKIN WHITE MASK which looks at the life of Frantz Fanon.
On February 22, Maysles will screen a rare 16mm documentary, WHAT’S HAPPENING IN HARLEM?— produced by Communist Party USA as part of their campaign for Black communist city council candidate, Ben Davis—which underscores the connection between racism, police brutality and healthcare.
Also screening is DOPE IS DEATH which looks at the legacy of the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords’ attempts to create a free healthcare and detox clinic in The Bronx.
Maysles Documentary Center is located at 343 Lenox Avenue, NYC
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Read more about the history of Harlem’s Lafargue Clinic in the book ‘Under the Strain of Color: Harlem’s Lafargue Clinic and the Promise of an Antiracist Psychiatry (Cornell Studies in the History of Psychiatry).’