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During the 1980s crack cocaine use by African Americans grew so dramatically that most African American communities were in their second decade of a crack cocaine epidemic in the 1990s. The marketing of highly addictive, low-cost "crack" has changed the very fabric of urban African American life. Increased crime, prostitution, and gang violence has resulted in a "War on Drugs," which has more often appeared to be a war on addicts. Thousands of African American men remain in prison for drug charges that in the white community may have resulted in no more than a fine, probation, or community service.
The ability of African American communities to confront this crack cocaine epidemic will determine the character of African American urban life well into the next century. Traditional alcohol and other drug treatment programs have been unable to stop the wave of addiction that has engulfed the African American community. A coalition of the strongest resources in these communities, including families, churches, schools, and community agencies, is urgently needed to address such widespread drug use.
In the United States drug addiction has been portrayed as a Chinese menace, or an African American problem, or a Latin American problem. Periodically different racial and ethnic groups have been stigmatized and held responsible for the ongoing drug crisis American society has experienced. This book has not been written to scapegoat the African American community with responsibility for drug use in America. It has been written in the belief that an accurate portrayal of the present and historic realities of African American addiction will help African American leaders, communities, churches, and colleges and universities meet the challenges of urban addiction.
Doin' Drugs: Patterns of African American Addiction attempts to capture the historic and modern patterns of African American addiction and alcoholism so that the interplay of addiction and race might be bet ter understood. It is our hope that, in doing this, the book will be used to better prepare a new generation of counselors, ministers, social workers, nurses, and physicians to face the epidemic of drug addiction in African American communities.
Most drug treatment programs are designed by individuals in recovery who replicate the approach that worked for them. Some programs take a shotgun approach and say that "a drug is a drug is a drug." Other programs focus on treating individuals at different stages in the progression of their addictive diseases. Few programs ask the deeper questions: What is a good recovery program for this particular racial, age, or gender group? What are the best learning styles for African Americans in recovery? What strengths do African Americans bring to a recovery program that will help us understand how to design a program for them?
We started the Cocaine Outreach and Recovery Program (CORP) of Seattle in 1989 specifically to treat crack cocaine addiction in cocainedependent African Americans. In developing the agency we asked ourselves: How can we develop a program for cocaine-using African American males and females, their families, and their communities? What values, beliefs, norms of behaviors, mores, experiences, interests, and abilities do they have that will inform our program development? What treatment philosophy will assist these men and women in gaining longterm recovery?
At the heart of our treatment philosophy is the belief that a drug treatment program based on compliance is counterproductive for African Americans. African Americans were brought to this country as slaves and were kept in this compliant situation as an unpaid labor force for three centuries. Currently, approximately 33 percent of young African Americans are in jail, on parole, or supervised in some way by the corrections system. We believe that the heart of an effective treatment philosophy for cocaine addiction in African Americans is the encouragement of voluntary involvement. When creating the program, we recognized the importance of autonomy, dignity, and pride in the African American culture, and we work hard to not do the planning, thinking, and decision making that African Americans in recovery can do for themselves. Authoritarian and rigid decision making by staff will elicit rebellious behavior and needlessly result in failure to complete the program. We do not believe in discharging clients after one relapse, for they are struggling with a powerful addiction that is very complex and difficult to deal with. The practice of discharging after a single relapse, which many programs follow, seems only to enlarge the pool of African Americans who feel like failures. We believe in empowerment and mutual decision making; we seek to help light the fires of self-concern, pride, and development.
Our underlying philosophy utilizes the bonding needs that have been at the root of male-dominated societies in Africa as well as gangs in this country. Too often treatment programs focus on individual effort and ignore treatment group relationships. Most crack-addicted males at CORP come into recovery having had little experience with friendship and mutual support. Most crack-addicted females come in as victims of sexual exploitation and other forms of victimization. African American heritage encourages traits like loyalty, honesty, and trust, but we find that our men have not known much real caring and support from other men, nor do women experience such caring and support from other women. At CORP we help men and women move into a belonging relationship with other members and with the program. CORP participants are called "members" rather than "clients" in order to promote the group connection. Individuals need to move into recovery together. As one man in our program recently observed, "It's an us thing, not a me thing."
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. —Psalm 126:5
African American addiction is often evaluated without a close examination of the traditional uses of alcohol and drugs in Africa and without an understanding of the trauma African people suffered when separated from their ancestors, religion, and homeland. Certainly, it is important to keep in mind that slaves did not come to the Americas from a social or religious void, and thus they brought with them highly evolved patterns of drug and alcohol use for religious, social, and medical purposes.
Alcohol and Drug Use in Africa
The first European traffic in African slaves began in Seville, Spain, between 1399 and 1442 (Cobb 1858), well before Columbus's discovery of the New World. As early as 1501 slaves captured by the Portuguese in the Lagos, Nigeria, region were sent to the West Indies, and in 1562 to England. Slaves continued to be shipped primarily from West Africa—from Senegal in the North to Angola in the South. Many of the tribal groups severely affected by slavery were recovering from devastating internal conflicts and war with neighboring nations (Davidson 1966). Some captives, despairing of ever returning to their homeland, chose death rather than give in to their captivity.
The slaves arriving in America came from such tribes as the Mandingos, Koromantyns, Whidahs, Fidahs, Eboes, and Congoes, tribes familiar with fermented maize or millet as a foodstuff, a trade product, an important part of social interaction, and a sacred drink. Wine made from locally tapped palm trees was used by many tribes for social and religious ceremonies, and numerous African cultures brewed beer, the drinking of which was "an integral part of virtually any social interchange among men in most African tribal societies" (Heath 1975: 15). Beer was and continues to be used "[as an offering] to gods and spirits, as a pledge of agreement between parties following adjudication, [and] as a token of appreciation to those who have taken turns working one's land" (ibid.).
Studies have focused on the presence of alcohol and other drugs in specific areas of Africa and on the role of these drugs in the long history of trading relations between the West African coast and Europe—for example, the trade between Europeans (who first wanted slaves, and then palm oil) and the Ijaw-Nembe, Kalahari, Bonny, and Opobo, a trade relationship begun by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century and continued by the British. European contact with the Kofyar, farmers occupying an area in northern Nigeria, began in 1909, when the British established control of the land. However, they did not introduce the use of alcohol, for there are indications that the Kofyar brewed beer as a part of their culture and trade before European contact with them (Netting 1964). The Kaguru, a tribe in east-central Tanganyika [now called Tanzania], still brew beer from maize, sugar, or millet throughout the year, and there, too, the practice has historical roots that predate European contact (Beidelman 1961).
Robert McC. Netting, in his anthropological review of the Kofyar, suggests that societies that have well-established drinking patterns in which alcohol has become a focus of group interest also have a minimal amount of disruptive behavior related to alcohol use. The Kofyarian society is well organized around beer drinking:
The Kofyar make, drink, talk, and think about beer. It is a focus of cultural concern and activity in much the same ways as cows ... Among equals, the presenting of beer is a mark of esteem and affection. A jar will be saved for a close friend, and institutionalized friendship among male contemporaries is by means of a named drinking society. Beer is given during courtship by a man to a woman, and the public exchange of beer is typical of lovers in the licit extra-marital relationship.... To celebrate the harvest, beer is made by individuals or by popular subscription and distributed freely ... Major entertainment dances such as the great flute chorus (koem) require a large supply of beer ... A man who exemplifies warrior virtues by killing an enemy or bringing down dangerous game on the hunt is honored by a beer feast and the coveted right to drink from a special reserved fermenting jar at funerals for the rest of his life. (1964: 376)
Netting also suggests that beer in Kofyarian society is used as a social lubricant. Because Kofyarian drinking is a group activity that is defined by distinctive social situations—such as harvest time, parties, and musical events—it is an inclusive rather than exclusive community activity. Individuals do not drink alone, and the possibilities for using beer for private psychological purposes are minimal. The particular Nigerian community Netting describes produced over 83.5 pounds of millet for each household member. This amount of millet provides the equivalent of 40 gallons of beer a year per person. The alcohol content of the beer ranges between 3 and 5 percent, and the average adult drinks between one and two quarts at each drinking party and special event, which occur about twice each week.
The activities of European merchants among the Ijaw of the Delta area of southern Nigeria illustrate the negative impact of the colonial presence on traditional patterns of alcohol use. There the Portuguese originally paid for slaves with cases of gin (which remained a medium of exchange along with other trade goods until British rule in the 1930s). Eventually gin, an alcohol product not even known in traditional village life, replaced palm oil as the main source of village income. By 1958, half the men in the area were involved in the distilling and exporting of gin made from palm wine. The negative effects on the moral life of the community were many, among them engaging in illegal activities such as smuggling gin to get the best price (Leis 1964: 832).
In the same way, the liquor traffic carried on by the United States and Great Britain in Africa as part of slave trading was the "curse of millions" (Kletzing and Crogman 1903). The very vessels that transported missionaries to the shores of Africa also carried thousands of gallons of rum to African ports. The strength of distilled rum was many times that of the beers and wines traditionally consumed in African societies. Accustomed to the use of alcohol in moderation, Africans were severely affected by the introduction of European rum and whiskey, as well as the brewing techniques that produced them.
The use of nonalcoholic drugs in Africa also has a long history. Brian du Toit (1991) in his review of drug use in Africa suggests that most tribal groups south of the Sahara became familiar with marijuana and hashish hundreds of years ago when Arab traders and neighboring tribes introduced ganja products and practices as they moved south through the African continent. Early European observers misidentified many African herbs, among them cannabis (marijuana): Western explorers often believed they had found a new drug when in reality they had simply encountered the same cannabis prepared in a different manner or called by a different name. This is not to say that tribal groups in sub-Saharan Africa used cannabis exclusively, for they were familiar with a wide variety of mind-altering herbs, some of which are still in use today.
The famous explorer Dr. David Livingstone, in his 1865 account of his African travels, observed the smoking of cannabis among the Sotho people. Members of this tribe were provided with
...a calabash of pure water, a split bamboo, five feet long, and the great pipe, which has a large calabash or kudu's horn chamber to contain the water, through which the smoke is drawn Narghille fashion, on its way to the mouth. Each smoker takes a few whiffs, the last being an extra long one, and hands the pipe to his neighbor. He seems to swallow the fumes; for, striving against the convulsive action of the muscles of chest and throat, he takes a mouthful of water from the calabash, waits a few seconds, and then pours water and smoke from his mouth down the grooveof the bamboo. The smoke causes violent coughing in all, and in some a species of frenzy which passes away in a rapid stream of unmeaning words, or short sentences, as "the green grass grows," "the fat cattle thrive," "the fish swim." (286-287)
Livingstone, who also observed Zulu warriors smoking cannabis before battle, said that they "sat down and smoked it, in order that they might make an effective onslaught" (540).
In 1652, when Europeans arrived at the Cape, they reported wide use of cannabis, as du Toit relates: "When Europeans under the Dutch East Indies Company settled at the Cape in 1652, cannabis already was smoked by indigenous groups, including the Khoikhoi, San, and Bantu speakers" (1991: 17). The first Portuguese observers were confused by various preparations that were eaten or drunk (and did not contain cannabis), preparations that were smoked in various mixtures (which included cannabis), and products that were smelled and inhaled (that might have included cannabis but were usually restricted to roots such as the gannabossie, the Ganna shrub). Jan van Riebeeck, the first Dutch commander of the Cape, noted substances that were inhaled, smoked, and drunk. These included the Ganna shrub, as well as cannabis (du Toit 1991).
As scholars address the non-Western interactions that have played a role in forming African culture, the importance of Muslim and Arabic influence in social and religious practices is being better understood. Both Arabian culture and the cultures of northeast and East Africa have had a significant impact on patterns of drug use in Africa. The cultivation and export of qat, a leaf that acts as a stimulant, was well established by the middle of the fourteenth century in Yemen (southwestern Arabia) and Ethiopia (northeastern Africa). Shelagh Weir (1985) traces the historic use of this drug in these areas, as well as its widespread use in areas of Somalia and Kenya prior to European rule.
Qat is chewed in North Africa and East Africa and brewed in the form of a tea in the country of South Africa. An evergreen shrub of the plant family Celastraceae, qat is found in Kenya, South Africa, Zaire, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Turkestan, Afghanistan, Tanzania, Zambia, and Mozambique. Fourteenth- and fifteenth-century texts by Muslim scholars have led to a belief that use of this drug was widespread at that time, at least in the Red Sea area. Its present epidemic use in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, and the two Yemens indicates a steady growth in its cultivation and exportation, as well as growing social acceptance of its use.
Accounts from the sixteenth century to eighteenth century, then, clearly indicate that West Africans and East Central Africans had extensive experience with the brewing of beer and wine from grains and fruits, and that southern Africans had some experience with cannabis (marijuana). In African tribal society, the drinking of alcohol was more of a group activity than an individual practice. African religious and sacred events always involved alcohol, except when the tribal member had converted to the Muslim faith. The use of alcohol products had become an integral part of tribal culture, with established norms regarding the use or abuse of these products. Traditional medical practices included the use of palm wine, millet beer, cannabis, as well as more esoteric herbal hallucinatory and nonhallucinatory medications.
Alcohol Use during the Slavery Period
Many slaves newly arrived in the Americas were proficient at the brewing of maize- and millet-based beers, and they adapted these skills to a variety of agricultural products and social situations they encountered in their new surroundings. Persimmon beer and beer brewed from corn were just two of the products developed by slaves that became popular in the developing colonies. The slaves also drew on the medical and religious uses of alcohol that were a part of their African heritage. Receiving little formal medical care, they turned to the herbal religious healing traditions with which their tribes were familiar in order to survive in their new world.
The first slaves were brought to Jamestown, Virginia, by a Dutch trading vessel in 1619, when twenty slaves were traded for food and supplies. By 1661 the shortage of labor experienced by the early European settlers and explorers led to the passage of laws that legalized slavery. Slaves had no personal rights and by law were doomed to servitude and ignorance (Kletzing and Crogman 1903: 39). Indentured servants were placed in a modified form of slavery which offered the possibility of freedom after a period of service.
By the 1700s, New England, Africa, and the West Indies had entered into a trade triangle. Sugar and molasses from the British and Spanish West Indies were shipped to New England, where it was distilled into rum. The rum was transported to Africa and exchanged for slaves (20 gallons of rum could purchase a muscular young male, and females could be bought for less [Larkins 1965]). These slaves were shipped by merchants to the West Indies to work the fields, completing the economic triangle (Asbury 1950).
Population figures are not available for the early years of slavery but by the first census of the United States (1791), the number of slaves was 587,236, nearly 92 percent of them in the border and southern states and about 8 percent in the Western Territory. The growth of slavery had always been limited in the North—Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware—because of climate and soil conditions unfavorable to large-scale agricultural production, the industrial development of the area, and the view held by some that slavery was a wicked and hateful institution. The use of large numbers of slaves for the production of such crops as apples, potatoes, or corn simply was not practical or economically profitable. However, the slave trade in the southern states of Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia—and the border states of Maryland and Virginia—flourished because the economy was based on cotton and tobacco, which required intensive labor in order to thrive. Maryland and Virginia also produced rice and indigo, and the Deep South states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee produced sugar as a crop. Thus, the southern economy could absorb thousands of slaves each year into the plantation system.
In 1806, President Jefferson asked Congress to consider abolishing the African slave trade. A long debate ensued, but an act, effective January 1, 1808, finally closed the United States to the importation of slaves through the European slave trade. The trading of slaves between states where slaveowners had established colonies of slaves (and sold them like cattle) was banned January 1, 1862 (Kletzing and Crogman 1903). The formal abolishment of slavery was implemented through the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Lincoln signed on January 1, 1863, and which freed about three-fourths of the slaves. The final abolition of slavery came with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865.
As noted, when Africans were brought to the New World they brought their indigenous social patterns and drinking styles with them. North Carolina slaves practiced an activity called "John Canoeing," which closely resembled traditional African rituals—the slaves wore ceremonial costumes and masks while they drank, begged pennies, and danced to tambourine music (Johnson 1937). The persimmon beer parties observed among Virginia slaves (Smith 1838), and the ceremonies for sugarcane cutting that were practiced among Louisiana slaves, closely resembled African harvest rituals (Stampp 1961). Harriet Jacobs in her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), confirms that many plantation celebrations had African roots.
Every child rises early on Christmas morning to see the Johnkannaus. Without them, Christmas would be shorn of its greatest attraction. They consist of companies of slaves from the plantations, generally of the lower class. Two athletic men, in calico wrappers, have a net thrown over them, covered with all manner of bright-colored stripes. Cow's tails are fastened to their backs, and their heads are decorated with horns. A box, covered with sheepskin, is called the gumbo box. A dozen beat on this, while others strike triangles and jawbones, to which bands of dancers keep time. For a month previous they are composing songs, which are sung on this occasion. These companies, of a hundred each, turn out early in the morning, and are allowed to go round till twelve o'clock, begging for contributions. Not a door is left unvisited where there is the least chance of obtaining a penny or a glass of rum. They do not drink while they are out but carry the rum home in jugs, to have a carousal. (179)
The early European American settlers also used alcoholic beverages such as ales, brews, ciders, and wines made from a variety of grains and fruits for purposes similar to those of African cultures. Colonists used alcohol at the various social events that were a part of colonial life: weddings, parties, funerals, celebrations, ceremonies, house and barn raisings, church raisings, harvest rituals, and work parties for apple paring, maple sugaring, and corn husking (Greene 1942; Rorabaugh 1979; Aaron and Musto 1979). African American slaves participated in these same events and came to adopt the drinking patterns of the European American colonists.
In both European and American communities drinking until one was drunk or even unconscious had developed as a style of drinking behavior. In the United States, whiskey, a distilled product generally made west of the Appalachian Mountains, began to challenge the popularity of New England rum, as it represented a more potent and thus more desirable drink. Many slaves worked for their owners in the production of whiskey and other alcoholic beverages, and some slaves were particularly valued because of their skills in brewing whiskey, beer, or wine, as revealed in interviews conducted by the Federal Writers Project with former slaves. One of these remembered that "Marse (Master) Alec always had plenty of good whiskey because Uncle Willis made it up for him, and it was made just right" (Killion 19 73: 11-12 ).
Slaves were relatively sober when compared as a group to European settlers and American Indians during this period of history (Genovese 1976) because they drank largely when the "master" allowed it to happen. On some plantations the period between Christmas and New Year's was a time of celebration when the entire plantation drank alcohol:
[On Christmas Day] Marse Alec would call the grown folks to the big house early in the morning and pass around a big pitcher full of whiskey, then he would put a little whiskey in the same pitcher and fill it with sweetened water and give it to us chillun ... Us had a big time for a whole week and then on New Year's Day us done a little work just to start the year right and us feasted that day on fresh meat, plenty of cake and whiskey. (Killion 1973:12)
However, Jacobs in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl suggests that the holiday time was very different on other plantations. New Year's Day was "hiring day" in the community in which she lived, and slaves were sent to distant plantations or even sold on the auction block. Children were torn from parents and husbands from wives, often never to see each other again. Any celebration, with or without the use of alcohol, was short-lived (Jacobs 1861).
The social patterns of drinking for African Americans in slavery became strongly characterized by weekend, holiday, and celebration drinking. The realities of slavery, which demanded daily dawn-to-dusk enforced labor, limited drinking mostly to times when agricultural production slowed. African American women during this period appear to have abstained at a higher rate than men who worked in the fields, primarily because of colonial and traditional African social sanctions against female drinking and because of the highly visible role African American women played as the caretakers of the children of slave owners.
Many sources confirm that slave masters permitted and encouraged alcohol use during harvest and agricultural layover times. Former slaves interviewed in the 1930s reported that for two or three weeks "after [the corn] was all shucked, there was a big celebration in store for the slaves. They cooked up washpots full of lamb, kid, pork and beef and had collard greens that were worth looking at. They had water buckets full of whiskey" (Killion 1973: 82). In addition, liquor was used as an incentive and reward for prodigious feats of labor:
The moonlight cotton pickings was big old times. They give prizes to the ones picking the most cotton. The prizes was apt to be a quart of whiskey for the man what picked the most and a dress for the woman what was ahead. (Ibid.: 83)
Some plantations held "frolics," which often included alcohol, at the end of planting seasons or at harvests. On many plantations the Fourth of July celebration marked the end of toil for a season.
On the Fourth a barbecue was cooked; when dinner was ready all the hands got their plows and tools, the mules was brought up and gear put on them, and then old Uncle Aaron started up a song about the crops was laid and rest time had come, and everybody grabbed a hoe or something, put it on their shoulder and joined the march around and around the table behind Uncle Aaron. (Ibid.: 141)
Allowing slaves the use of alcohol on holidays, at crop-laying time, or even for weekly frolics was no great indulgence on the part of the slave master. Holiday celebrations were the only real respite for slaves who worked from the age of ten until they died. These celebration periods offered African American people a time of rest and a time of healing after having been sold to other slave owners, whipped and beaten, chased and bitten by dogs, sexually assaulted by their "masters," and captured and punished by slave patrollers. Unfortunately these celebrations begun in the 1700s contributed to the later development of certain destructive patterns of African American alcohol and drug use. Moreover, Kenneth M. Stampp in The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South suggests that alcohol was used much more commonly in the life of the slave than merely on holidays and special occasions, and for reasons other than celebration:
No law, no threat of the master, ever kept liquor out of the hands of slaves or stopped the illicit trade between them and "unscrupulous" whites. Some masters themselves furnished a supply of whiskey for holiday occasions, or winked at violations of state laws and of their own rules.
There was little truth to the abolitionist charge that masters gave liquor to their slaves in order to befuddle their minds and keep them in bondage. On the other hand, many bondsmen used intoxicants for a good deal more than an occasional pleasant stimulant, a mere conviviality of festive occasions. They found that liquor provided their only satisfactory escape from the indignities, the frustration, the emptiness, the oppressive boredom of slavery. Hence, when they had the chance, they resorted to places that catered to the Negro trade or found sanctuaries where they could tipple undisturbed. What filled their alcoholic dreams one can only guess, for the dreams at least were theirs alone. (1961: 370-371)
It is clear that alcohol use by slaves depended on the slave's situation, attitude, and opportunity to get the beverage. In some cases, alcohol use was by expectation and mutual agreement (e.g., Christmas and other holiday celebrations), while in other cases the slaves sought out the alcohol.
Alcohol and Drug Use after the Civil War
The African American church grew dramatically after the Emancipation Proclamation and had a significant influence on the lives of African American people by promoting abstinence and moderate drinking patterns. Revivals, midweek prayer meetings, area conferences, and Sunday church gatherings were central to the lives of most African American people, the majority of whom lived in rural communities, where the church, not the tavern, was the center of community life, the place where the social and educational events of the community were held. The post-Civil War period was also the time when the development of African American higher education occurred—Howard University, Wilberforce University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Fisk University, Tuskegee University, and other colleges and universities for African Americans opened. Many African Americans were now allowed schooling previously denied them, and work, study, and bettering their lives became their new agenda.
For a short time some African American communities were involved in the Reconstruction movement, which allowed for representation in Congress, voting rights, and funding for schools and agricultural education. However, the Reconstruction period was to be short-lived, for white southerners fully intended to keep African American people in some form of economic and political subjugation. The southern United States increasingly became a place from which African Americans wanted to flee.
In both southern and northern cities during the slavery period, free African Americans had become a substantial presence. However, the end of slavery stimulated the beginning of a rapid increase in migration north, as well as rapid growth in African American populations in southern cities. This increasing urbanization was to change African American patterns of occasional alcohol use into patterns of addiction. Once generally limited to celebrations, weddings, and holidays, alcohol began to be used more widely as a medication to treat the emotional suffering brought on by racism, poverty, and hopelessness, as slaves had used it to treat the emotional suffering of slavery.
As African American urban society developed, the domination and power of the church decreased while the influence and power of the marketplace increased. African American men and women, who could seldom find profitable employment in a rigidly segregated society, increasingly turned to alcohol and drug sales as a source of income.
In American society as a whole the use of nonalcoholic drugs increased. In 1856 the hypodermic syringe was introduced in the United States and during the Civil War was widely used to inject morphine, the primary active ingredient in opium, to relieve the pain of wounded and infected soldiers. So many soldiers became addicted to morphine that they were said to be suffering from "soldier's disease" or the "army disease." Pure cocaine became available at about this same time and was thought to be a cure for morphine addiction, a misconception that led to a cycle of multiple and successive drug use. In the years following the Civil War, soldiers often became addicted to the camphor and opium balls used to treat dysentery, and many soldiers and sailors became easy targets for drug peddlers because of addictions to morphine, opium, cocaine, and hashish they developed while in military service (Ray and Ksir 1990).
Opium use in the United States also grew rapidly as the country imported labor forces from other lands. Chinese workers were brought to the western United States to help build the expanding railroads, and many of them brought with them the habit of smoking opium, which had been stimulated by the legalization of opium in China following the victory of the British in the Opium Wars. Opium, which was brought into China from India by British merchants, appears to have been brought into the United States in this period from the Middle East, as well as from other countries where its production had been encouraged by the British engaged in the opium trade. The number of opium smokers grew quickly in the United States.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, many physicians regularly prescribed opium and its alkaloids, particularly sulfate of morphine, for ailments such as headaches, sore eyes, toothaches, sore throat, laryngitis, diphtheria, bronchitis, congestion, pneumonia, consumption, gastritis, liver complaints, gallstones, peritonitis, kidney trouble, neuralgia, and rheumatism. Opium and morphine addiction from 1860 to 1900 appears to have been concentrated among women, soldiers, artists, musicians, and physicians (Morgan 1974). African Americans as a group were underrepresented in the growing number of addicts.
At first the Chinese were the racial objects of the antidrug crusades of the late 1800s. In 1875, San Francisco passed the first ordinance in America forbidding opium smoking under severe penalties. New York State passed a similar ordinance in 1882, aimed at opium use in New York City's expanding Chinatown (Kane 1882). A federal act with racist overtones passed in 1890: It allowed only American citizens to import opium or to manufacture smoking opium in the United States. As more laws were passed outlawing the smoking of opium, the price of black-market opium increased. Lower-income addicts began using morphine or heroin, which were both inexpensive and readily available.
By the turn of the century many believed that African Americans had taken up drug use at alarming levels.
Some of the negro labor camps in the South simply breed addicts. They are deplorable places, as I can testify from observation. The men work about four days in the week and "celebrate" the rest of the time, usually by taking a trip to another camp, where high carnival is held-carnival which involves the use of considerable cocaine or other narcotics when they can be obtained. The supply is usually irregular, and hence there is more of drug debauchery than of regular addiction; but the participants become regular addicts if they leave the camp and take up city residence. (Morgan 1974: 72)
In fact, drug abuse was spreading throughout the entire nation. Gang labor forces at seaport cities such as Baltimore and New Orleans came into contact with drugs as vessels transported larger quantities of opiates into the United States. Traffic on the Great Lakes brought narcotics from Canada into Detroit, Buffalo, Chicago, and Cleveland (Morgan 1974).
At the beginning of the twentieth century, many popular drinks, wine mixtures, and medications included cocaine, opium, and morphine. In 1906 the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed, requiring druggists and patent medicine vendors to specify on the label the amount of habit-forming drugs used in compounds. The act attempted to regulate the use of narcotics in food, drinks, and medicine, and its passage was an important milestone in protecting the health of the nation.
In response to alarming levels of opiate-based drug use, the United States also requested an international conference to discuss controls on the opium trade. Representatives of the United States, Great Britain, and Germany met at The Hague in 1912. For several centuries the British merchants had had a monopoly on opium, which Chinese smugglers took into China for them (Kramer 1979). In 1839 the emperor of China tried to suppress opium smuggling. Pressures mounted, though, and an incident in which drunken British and American soldiers were involved in the killing of a Chinese precipitated the Opium War. The British army and the royal navy won the war, and the smuggling continued. Despite another Opium War in the 1850s, imports of illegal opium continued until 1908, when China and Great Britain finally agreed to limit them. Faced with giving up a very profitable business, Great Britain wanted to enact similar controls over the trade of morphine and cocaine, two drugs manufactured in Germany that were replacing opium. The United States, Great Britain, and Germany finally agreed to control international trade and domestic sale and use of these drugs (Latimer and Goldberg 1981). The Chinese opium trade officially ended in 1913.
In response to the Hague conference, the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 was passed. It was titled "An Act to provide for the registration of, with collectors of internal revenue, and to impose a special tax upon all per sons who produce, import, manufacture, compound, deal in, dispense, or give away opium or coca leaves, their salts, derivatives, or preparations, and for other purposes."
The Harrison Act put habit-forming drugs under federal control, closed the drug stores that were dispensing addictive drugs, and for a time forced the sellers of these drugs underground. Soon after the law was passed, however, the drug traffic resumed but under extremely different circumstances. The price of heroin and other habit-forming drugs rose dramatically, leading to increased adulteration of the drugs. Addicts who once could procure their supply of drugs at drug stores and through pharmacists were now forced to use illegal means of getting drugs, or were forced to seek treatment as a result of being arrested for violation of the new law. Increasingly African Americans began to be numbered among those selling as well as using opium, heroin, and morphine.
While the United States was busy passing an antinarcotic act it was also heading toward prohibition of alcohol, a move that challenged the long-standing acceptance of alcohol as having a positive role in society, both socially and medicinally (even sick children were quieted and thought to be cured by small sips of alcoholic drinks). In fact, early on hard drinking had become associated with hard work through the use of alcohol at house raisings, harvesting celebrations, husking, quilting, logrolling, and all of the major festivities (Sinclair 1962). Traditionally, alcohol was supplied to soldiers and sailors. During the War of Independence in 1776, each soldier at Valley Forge received an official daily ration of a half pint of whiskey, depending on the supply that the quartermaster had available (Sinclair 1962). In 1811, Dr. Benjamin Rush, who had been physician-general of the Middle Department of the Continental Army, cautioned against the use of liquor and issued a famous pamphlet advocating complete abstinence. He was a tremendous influence on the preacher Lyman Beecher, who in the early 1830s appealed to God's law as well as increasing medical knowledge to promote the cause of prohibition. Across the nation, large numbers of people joined together to express their concerns about the use of alcohol, the liquor traffic, and the negative influence of the liquor industry in the United States. Ultimately the growth of these religious and social movements resulted in the formation of the United States Temperance Union in 1836.
The temperance movement was rooted in nationalism—a belief that self-control was essential for the country, that abstinence would bring social reform, that the movement against saloons and drinking would eliminate prostitution and crime. However, in the South the movement was affected by the racist belief that Prohibition was needed as a means of preventing interracial sex.
In the North, African Americans joined the movement in significant numbers. They founded such groups as the Colored American Temperance Society in Philadelphia in the early 1830s, the New England Tem perance Society of Colored People in 1836, the Connecticut State Temperance Society of Colored People, and the African Temperance Society in New York in the early 1840s.
This major reform movement grew into strong prohibition movements in twelve states, until the Civil War put a temporary damper on the movement. Although thirteen states passed prohibition laws between 1851 and 1855, nine had repealed them by 1868, under extreme pressure from the liquor industry. The National Prohibition Party, organized in 1874, started a new movement for the prohibition of alcohol. Much of the party's focus was on the link between alcohol use, race, and crime (especially sexual crimes). Over a period of almost fifty years various groups worked for national prohibition. By 1920 there was enough national support to pass the Eighteenth Amendment against the sale or transport of alcohol within the United States.
The amendment gained the uncertain support of a nation involved in the suffering of World War I. Once the war was over, however, it became clear that national support for the movement was real. The Methodist and Baptist churches and fundamentalist sects formed the core support for Prohibition in the South. Not only did "this dominant village middle class [provide] religious fodder for pulpit politics and prohibition," it "gave the Ku Klux Klan the majority of its four million members during its revival after the Great War" (Sinclair 1962: 18).
White southerners used the Prohibition movement to promulgate their prejudices against and fears of African American males. They spread the rumor that liquor sometimes gave the African American man, stimulated by the pictures of seminaked women on the labels of whiskey bottles, the courage to overcome his inferior status and to loose his sexual desires on white women (Irwin 1908). They believed African American men should be prohibited from drinking liquor, and, to a lesser degree, it was agreed that white men should be included in this prohibition. Since African Americans were segregated from white society and discriminatory laws denied or restricted their right to vote, it seemed equally appropriate to the white population to deny the African American the right to drink liquor.
In the early 1900s and following World War I, African Americans migrated in large numbers from the rural South to the urban centers of the North, seeking employment opportunities and hoping to escape from the rural poverty, repression, violence, and racial segregation of the South (Gwinnell 1928). For a good many African Americans, the Great Migration (discussed in Chapter 2) changed their pattern of alcohol use as well as their location. The urban milieu, where social activities took place in taverns and clubs, fostered regular and excessive drinking, rather than drinking to celebrate special occasions. In Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, African American communities increasingly became the place where whites practiced their vices. During the Prohibition era, many African American clubs and stores sold illegal whiskey, and law enforcement officials often ignored alcohol and other drug sales in these communities. Whites came to African American communities to hear African American music, to party, to patronize houses of prostitution, and to gamble.
African Americans became a prime target for the illegal alcohol sales of white liquor traders (Drake and Cayton 1945; McKay 1968). As segregation and discrimination kept most African American men in the North out of higher education and lucrative jobs, a small number profited from the illegal liquor trade. This pattern of promoting illegal substances in African American communities was repeated with the mass marketing and distribution of heroin, the use of which reached epidemic proportions.
Illegal drug use in the early 1900s was limited to subcultures within the larger African American community. For example, African American men fighting in World War I were exposed to drug use in the port cities of Europe and North Africa, but when they returned home they usually did not continue their drug experimentation. The majority of African American families were involved in a struggle against segregation, poverty, and racial violence, and drug use was generally not a paramount concern.
In the 1920s and 1930s, however, African American businesses began to take advantage of the desire of the populace to escape from both poverty and sobriety. In the large cities of the United States, African American communities became places to escape from the rigid racial and social boundaries of the nation. Jazz and dance clubs, houses of prostitution, gambling houses, and after-hours clubs became an emerging part of African American society. These clubs also provided a haven where those African American church members who wanted to could find an escape from the more rigid teachings of African American preachers.
In the 1930s statistics began to indicate that large numbers of African Americans were known narcotics addicts, chiefly because they were disproportionately represented in the known addict populations of major urban areas. According to a report on opium addiction in Chicago from 1928 to 1934, African Americans represented only 6.9 percent of the population but made up 17.3 percent of the addict population (Dai 1937). Across the United States in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Detroit, African American addiction of various kinds was growing, a growth that had a multiplicity of causes. As America came out of the Depression, African Americans became more prosperous because of their work in automotive factories. Prohibition was to end soon, and all of America would be involved in mobilizing for World War II.
African American night life—and alcohol and drug use—continued to expand during the war. In geographically isolated Seattle, over thirty-four jazz-oriented clubs prospered during this period. There were clubs with full casinos, gentleman pimps in the bars, and heroin and cocaine for sale (de Barros 1993).
African Americans who fought in World War II distinguished themselves in combat, although the armed forces were segregated until 1948. The war brought new prosperity to African American soldiers and factory and shipyard workers and also provided African American males with the freedom of travel. Treated with respect and equality in France and other nations, few were prepared to return to the racism and limited opportunity of the United States.