Eugene Hoskins Is His Name

16 Feb

Slate.com has a very interesting story up: Eugene Hoskins Is His Name, The long-forgotten story of a black autistic man in Oxford, Miss., who crossed paths with William Faulkner. The story describes a man from the early 20th century with calendar (and other) savant skills,

Eugene Hoskins is his name. He lives at Oxford, Miss., a University place of about three thousand people. He is well known about town for his eccentricities.” Thus begins the 1920 account of a 24-year-old black man whose constellation of neuropsychological symptoms—that is to say, his “eccentricities”—are now immediately recognizable as those of an autistic savant. Remarking on his “uncanny knowledge of dates,” the case report relates how “a bystander said to him: ‘I was married on the 8th of June, 1901.’ Without a moment’s hesitation Eugene said: ‘Dat was a Satu’day.’ Given the month, day and year, he will give the day of the week. He never fails, never hesitates. Vary if you will by giving the year and month and asking what day of the month was the second Tuesday, or the fourth Friday—he answers just the same.”

The paper they reference is from 1920. Here is the abstract:

The case of a feeble-minded negro is described. He is chronologically 24 years and mentally between 8 and 9. He has a rather short auditory memory span failing on five digits. He has committed to memory a large array of facts about dates, places and locomotive engine numbers. Given a date—month, year, and day of month—he will give day of week. He cannot go back of 1901 nor forward beyond 1924. Between these limits he never fails. From Psych Bulletin 18:01:00034. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)

Not all savants are autsitic. Certainly, not all autistics are savants. But the story is interesting nonetheless.

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One Response to “Eugene Hoskins Is His Name”

  1. RAJ February 16, 2012 at 12:23 #

    It is fascinating that Eugene Hoskins would have crossed paths with one of my favorite authors William Faulkner. Hoskins would likley be the model of a character in Faulkner’s novel ‘The Sound and the Fury’. One part of the novel is a stream of consciousness as told by a man strikingly resembling Hoskins. The title of the novel is taken by a soliloquy from Macbeth:

    “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
    To the last syllable of recorded time,
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more: it is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.”

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