Watch: Doctor mistrust forced Black women to travel outside of state to give birth

Singer Marilyn McCoo's mother feared for unborn child's life.

The mistrust of white doctors led some Black women to travel north to give birth.  Author and music journalist Danyel Smith discovered the modern day maternity underground railroad in the 1940s when writing a book about all things pop stars. In her book  “Shine Bright,  A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop” the former editor-in-chief of Vibe and the first Black editor of Billboard writes about the lives of the Black women behind some of the biggest hits. She discovered that singer Marilyn McCoo’s mother, who was a gynecologist, did not trust the hospitals in Georgia.  So she got on a train headed for New Jersey to give birth to her famous daughter and all her children. 

The following is a transcript of that conversation.

Danyel Smith [00:00:00] I could not figure out why. Marilyn McCoo, whose family is from Georgia, was not born there. She was born in New Jersey. And it’s like she was born in Jersey, but she was a toddler in Georgia. Something wasn’t adding up for me. And I finally found out that her mother, who was a gynecologist back in those days, in the forties, did not trust the hospitals in Georgia. And so she would get on the train and go all the way to Jersey to have all of her children, not just Marilyn McCoo, delivered by a Black woman OB-GYNs.   

Maiysha Kai [00:00:38] Wow. 

Smith [00:00:39] Stay there until the baby was, you know, grown enough to handle the train trip back to Georgia. But that’s what she did. So then that places Marilyn McCoo’s birth and life into a whole perspective. And so I wanted to make sure that I talked about the details of the women’s lives. Details. Hair, makeup. These things make up a woman performer’s life. But I also wanted to push back a little bit, honestly, on the idea of Black girl magic. I think that, yes, we are magical beings. I don’t know how we would have survived without having some of that magic in us. The ability to to cast spells and even to curse people. The ability to float through things that would kill others. But pushing back on that a little bit. I wanted to get into the idea of Black women creativity and Black woman work.

Watch full interview on the Writing Black Podcast with Maiysha Kai.