Join the Conversation

Join the Conversation

Sign up today to hear about books and authors from an independent bookstore near you.

The Secret Epidemic

The Secret Epidemic Cover

The Secret Epidemic

The Story of AIDS and Black America

By Jacob Levenson

Pantheon, Hardcover, 9780375421754, 320pp.

Publication Date: February 3, 2004


As we enter the twenty-first century, AIDS in America has become primarily a black disease. African Americans now constitute 50 percent of all new HIV cases, and AIDS is one of the top causes of death in young black men and women. The story of how this came to pass reaches across half a century, from the Great Migration north to the boom of the postwar era and the subsequent urban decay, the advent of heroin and crack, and the rise of the new South.

In The Secret Epidemic, Jacob Levenson tells this story through the experiences of the people at its center. Mindy Fullilove, one of the first black researchers to investigate the roots of the epidemic, leads us from San Francisco to the early appearance of the disease in Harlem and the South Bronx. Desiree Rushing must reconcile her crack addiction and HIV infection with the fate of her city, family, and the black church. Mario Cooper is a gay son of the black elite who becomes infected, works to mobilize the Congressional Black Caucus and the Clinton White House to respond to the epidemic, and eventually confronts the boundaries of American race politics. And David deShazo is a white social worker thrust into a hidden, rural black world in the heart of the American South, where he struggles to prevent the spreading epidemic and help two infected black sisters survive with the disease.

Interweaving personal stories and national policy, the legacy of discrimination and the battle for civil rights, sexuality and the role of the black church, this is a significant book for our time——a portrait of a devastating epidemic and an examination of our changing understanding of race in America.

Praise For The Secret Epidemic

“Jacob Levenson’s The Secret Epidemic ought to be must-reading for anyone interested in the destruction AIDS has wrought on black America. This is an important book.”
—Julian Bond

“To say that Jacob Levenson’s The Secret Epidemic is a must-read is to say that it is a compelling, impassioned, and deeply humane work of writing and that it is an urgent, necessary alarm for anyone who thinks the AIDS epidemic in America has been tamed. Think of this book as the sequel to Randy Shilts’s And the Band Played O—the arrival of a major author with a hugely important story to tell.”
—Samuel G. Freedman

“The importance of this book at this critical juncture cannot be underestimated. It is too easy to overlook the fact that AIDS is still epidemic in our country, especially in impoverished rural and urban areas. The Secret Epidemic promises to open up the range of the public’s vision and also public discourse on this public and private health crisis facing the African American community and, indeed, the country as a whole.”
—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.