The legend of John Henry tells of a post-Civil War Black man who proved greater than a steam powered drill, but afterwards, died from exhaustion. Whether the legend is interpreted as a tragedy, a heroic tale, or both, the story contains a sober truth for all Americans. There are many examples of African Americans who, like John Henry, overcome humble backgrounds and systemic barriers to achieve great success, but at what costs to their health?
Sherman James, a social epidemiologist, is the Susan B. King Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Public Policy at Duke University; was a professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (1973-89) and the University of Michigan (1989-03). At Michigan, he was the John P. Kirscht Collegiate Professor of Public Health and has received numerous awards and honors in his prolific career.