Remembering Civil Rights Lawyer Samuel Carter McMorris and his Fight Against Unjust Drug Laws & Police Brutality

Editor’s Note: Today’s post in honor of Black History Month comes from contributing editor Sarah Brady Siff, a visiting assistant professor at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, in affiliation with the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC).

Samuel Carter McMorris in the Makio, Ohio State University’s yearbook, in 1944.

In 1962, the United States Supreme Court struck down California’s “narcotics addict” law in the case Robinson v. California. Samuel Carter McMorris, the lawyer who argued and won the case, was a fierce criminal defense lawyer for the Black community in Los Angeles during a tumultuous era. Robinson was the second of two criminal cases McMorris successfully appealed to the Supreme Court, both of them at his own expense on behalf of indigent clients. Yet McMorris has been lost to history, left without so much as a Wikipedia page.

As McMorris knew, abuse was inherent in California’s narcotics addict law. A quarter of drug arrests in Los Angeles during the 1950s and early 1960s were solely for the crime of addiction, a charge that did not even require the physical presence of drugs themselves. The testimony of an officer that he had observed injection marks on the arm of a suspect was ordinarily enough evidence for a conviction. Police freely and frequently demanded that citizens roll up their sleeves and expose the insides of their arms so officers could inspect for needle marks. This “evidence” was so conclusive in court that suspects in custody sometimes disfigured themselves by burning the area with lit cigarettes. McMorris’s legal activism helped overturn the criminalization of addiction and this type of invasive drug enforcement.

Early Life

McMorris was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1920. His father, Arthur, was a policeman, and his mother, Marie, was a homemaker; Samuel had four younger sisters. When he graduated from East High School in 1937, his class named him both “most industrious” and “most conscientious.” He worked as a traveling salesman, served in the Army, then attended Ohio State University, where he attained a law degree in 1950. 

Pictured in 1950 with the staff of the Ohio State Law Journal, Samuel Carter McMorris was the first Black student to serve in that role.

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“The Environment was Just Ice”: Desegregating the University of North Carolina School of Pharmacy

Editor’s Note: In honor of Black History Month, today’s post about the desegregation of the University of North Carolina School of Pharmacy comes from Christian Brown, a PharmD candidate at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, and Ben Urick, an Assistant Professor in the Center for Medical Optimization at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

William Wicker and Mona Boston Reddick
William Wicker and Mona Boston Reddick, two of the first Black students at the UNC School of Pharmacy. Images from the 1965 UNC Yackety Yack yearbook and the April 8, 1967, issue of the Carolina Journal of Pharmacy.

When thinking about school desegregation, many picture 6-year-old Ruby Bridges, flanked by federal marshals and ascending the steps of her New Orleans elementary school in 1960. Others may think of the Little Rock Nine, who desegregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957 under the watchful eye of the 101st Airborne Division.

On the campuses of public colleges and universities around the South, though, many of the first Black students were graduate and professional students who successfully challenged the color line and gained admission to previously segregated state-sponsored programs as early as the 1930s. Although some of this history is well-known—particularly about the desegregation of law schools—the desegregation of other types of professional schools has not received much scholarly attention.

The history of the color line at Southern schools and colleges of pharmacy has been particularly understudied. Recognizing this gap in the research, we decided to investigate the history of our own institution, the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy. We recently began the UNC Pharmacy Desegregation Oral History Project (in partnership with the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy) to collect and record the experiences of the first Black students at the UNC School of Pharmacy. We hope to connect their stories to current pursuits of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the School and in the profession at large. To date, we have successfully interviewed two of the School’s earliest Black graduates, and we’re excited to share some of our preliminary findings.

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The Complicated Legacy of James E. Brown (c. 1802–1853), Liberian Colonial Apothecary

Editor’s Note: From the Collections is a new feature at Points that highlights articles, artifacts, images, and other items of interest from AIHP publications and collections. In honor of Black History Month, Points Managing Editor Greg Bond revisits his two-part 2018 Pharmacy in History article about Liberian Colonial Apothecary James E. Brown. Read the full articles (Part 1 and Part 2) at JSTOR.

James Brown Ad
Colonial Apothecary James Brown’s 1834 advertisement in the Liberia Herald as reprinted in The African Repository, September 1834.

In the May 4, 1834, edition of the Liberia Herald, James E. Brown, the newly arrived Colonial Apothecary, placed an advertisement announcing his new business:

J. Brown, Druggist and Apothecary, late of Washington City, respectfully informs the citizens of Liberia, that he has taken the house formerly occupied by W.L. Weaver, Esq. in Broad Street, where he is now opening an extensive assortment of Drugs and Medicines, imported in brig Argus, from the United States, which he offers for sale on reasonable terms.” [1]

Over the previous two years, Brown had completed a pharmacy apprenticeship under the auspices of the American Colonization Society (ACS), making him one of the earliest known formally trained African American pharmacists or health professionals.

Brown had many friends in the United States who eagerly awaited updates after his departure. Finally, in August 1834, the National Daily Intelligencer, a leading Washington, DC, newspaper reported Brown’s arrival in Africa:

Many of your city readers will remember James Brown, a colored man, formerly resident here, and universally esteemed as one of the most intelligent and industrious men of color amongst us. He left this city for Liberia in November last… It will, doubtless, gratify his friends, and the friends of the colonization cause to hear of his well-doing. We have to-day seen a letter from him, in which he expressed his great satisfaction with the country and his prospects.” [2]

For the next two decades, Brown tended to the pharmaceutical and medical needs of Liberian colonists, proselytized for his new homeland, and held a series of powerful political positions.

Brown’s remarkable career—and complicated legacy—however have been little remembered. He was one of the first African Americans to receive formal health sciences training in the United States, but he was a vocal life-long supporter of the extremely controversial colonization movement. He strongly advocated for African American freedom, justice, and self-determination, but he failed to extend the same principles to the native Africans he encountered in Liberia. This post provides a brief introduction to the life and times of James E. Brown, Colonial Apothecary.

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Drugstores and the Color Line: Remembering Pharmacies as Sites of the Civil Rights Movement

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of Points posts during February in honor of Black History Month. Today’s article comes from managing editor Greg Bond, the Assistant Director of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy and the Senior Editor of History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals.

Oklahoma City Katz Drug Store Sit-in
Seven-year-old Ayanna Najuma looks at the camera during a 1958 NAACP Youth Council sit-in at the segregated lunch counter of Katz Drug Store in Oklahoma City. Katz integrated its counter after two days of protests. Image courtesy of the Melton Collection at the Oklahoma Historical Society.

On August 6, 1894, Abraham D. Cecil, an African American painter and interior decorator from Bloomington, Illinois, visited the drugstore of Hamer H. Green and ordered a glass of cherry phosphate soda. Green, the former President of the Illinois State Board of Pharmacy, drew the color line and refused to serve his African American customer.

Cecil promptly sued Green for violating his civil rights. In a decision eventually upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court, however, state courts ruled that a drugstore soda fountain was “private… [and] exclusive” and not a “public accommodation.” The courts thus affirmed the defendant’s right to refuse service to African Americans (Cecil v. Green, 69 Ill. App. 61l; Cecil v. Green, 161 Ill. 265).

Abraham Cecil was not alone. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, drugstores and pharmacies were frequently sites of civil rights activism as African Americans protested the color line and fought against unequal treatment. Particularly as drugstore soda fountains and lunch counters became common throughout the country, African Americans repeatedly turned to the courts or engaged in direct actions like sit-ins, pickets, and boycotts to challenge Jim Crow in the drugstore.

Although scholars have rightly examined in detail the pivotal role of the broader sit-in movement and of protests at department stores, the importance of drugstores and pharmacies as sites of civil rights protest and activism has been much less studied. Like department stores, pharmacies peddled a wide array of commercial goods and also served the public at their ubiquitous soda fountains and lunch counters. Unlike department stores, though, drugstores also filled prescriptions, sold medicines, and provided important public health information.

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