On November 2, 1918, as the Spanish Flu pandemic marched around the world and eventually killing more than 50,000,000 people in two years, a headline in the Cleveland Advocate, a Black newspaper, read: “‘Flu' Shuns Us,’ Says Health Doctor.” A study published in the July 12, 2019 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reinforced the then commonly held belief that Black people were not getting the flu, or dying from it, the way White people were. “The only year in the 20th century when Black people in the USA had lower influenza mortality than White people was 1918,” wrote Helene Økland and Svenn-Erik Mamelund in The Journal.
Despite the injustices spawned by segregation, it may have functioned as a de facto quarantine, limiting the exposure Blacks, generally, and of Queen Anne Town, Maryland, in particular, to the Spanish Flu.
In 1918 Queen Anne Town, Black physician and Mount Nebo Colored (Elementary) School teacher Dr. William Lane Watkins took to his horse and buggy for the family’s long journey to Baltimore to see to the burial of his two daughters, Maud and Blanche. The road north passed close to Camp [Fort] Meade, sixteen miles from the city, where it all began.
In reality, however, a deadly influenza was sweeping across the country with the ferocity of a wind storm, cutting down Americans in their prime. Right or wrong, President Wilson and other bureaucrats contended that the War had to take priority, and citizens’ morale and sense of patriotism
had to remain high.
According to Baltimore News, September 18, 1918 edition, there was an “appearance of the Spanish Flu in New England … then, in a flash, the flu was at Fort Meade (MD) … A week later, it had hit the city.” Without telephone, or other means of speedy communication, and passage of the Sedition Act in May, 1918 (which curtailed the free speech rights of U.S. citizens during time of war), the Watkins, and their Queen Anne Town neighbors were insulated from news of a deadly influenza outbreak rapidly spreading throughout the Baltimore region and around the country.