‘The last flag bearers of an era’: how coronavirus threatens a generation of black Ameri

Older black people are more likely to die of the virus that their white counterparts – among those lost are prominent black pastors, performers and civil rights activists

By Kenya Evelyn | The Guardian | April 21, 2020

 

Coronavirus has claimed more than 45,000 lives in the US as of Tuesday – especially those of older Americans, who represent 91% of all Covid-19 deaths.

Within that vulnerable population, older black people are more likely to die of the virus than their white counterparts. And among those lost are prominent black pastors, performers and practitioners who lived through struggles for civil and cultural rights in their communities.

“Many of them are the last flag bearers of an era long ago,” said Brian Turner, an associate professor of psychology and director of African American diaspora studies at Xavier University, a historically black university in New Orleans. “The collective trauma our communities are experiencing risks the lifelines of our cultural anchors and folklores shared through oral traditions.”

The map of where these elders live is a story within itself. African Americans face a higher risk of exposure to the virus, mostly on account of concentrating in urban areas and working in essential industries. In the midwest and north-east, racial inequities in labor and population density threaten lives.

Meanwhile, the south presents the “perfect storm of characteristics to just be a tragic region in terms of the Covid outbreak”, said Thomas LaVeist, dean of public health and tropical medicine at Tulane University. Poverty and inadequate healthcare mean higher rates of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

“So many black folks struggle with inequities that contribute to premature death rates,” said Daniel Dawes, professor of health law and policy at the Morehouse School of Medicine. “Many are not even able to die in dignity.”

“We’re losing an incredible brain trust with these generations and that will impact an entire country, not just the black community,” Dawes said.

The Guardian presents the stories of five black Americans who died of the coronavirus, the impact on their families, and unique communities.

Theodore Gaffney, 92 Washington, District of Columbia

Theodore Gaffney from an interview in the document “Freedom Riders.”

Theodore Gaffney from an interview in the document ‘Freedom Riders’. Photograph: Firelight Media

Theodore Gaffney’s presence in the civil rights movement remains one of the most recognizable – even though he was always behind the scenes. Gaffney captured much of the historic events of the era as a photographer.