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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The Points Interview: Gina Barreca

Editor’s Note:  Continuing the attention to gender and drinking that we mustered up for women’s history month, Points is excited to welcome feminist author Gina Barreca as our twenty-second interview, talking about her recent anthology of writings by women on drinking, Make Mine a Double: Why Women Like Us Like To Drink (or Not) (University Press of New England, 2011).  Well-known as a syndicated columnist and radio commentator, Barreca is a historian of gender and humor as well as a gendered and humorous subject.  Her past scholarly books include They Used to Call Me Snow White But I Drifted: Women’s Strategic Use of Humor (Viking, 1991) and Babes in Boyland: A Personal History of Coeducation in the Ivy League (University Press of New England, 2011). When not hoisting a glass, she teaches English and Feminist Theory at the University of Connecticut.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

University Press of New England, 2011

The 28 original pieces by terrific women writers–written especially for Make Mine A Double— celebrate parts of women’s lives that have been bottled up and sealed tight. Whether you look at the funny essays about women drinking or the equally funny essays about women not drinking, the book will cheer you, sustain you, and make you laugh out loud.  I felt it was important to create this collection because without being defined as such, the discussion of drinking has traditionally been the study of male drinking. We needed a new perspective. This volume helps us examine, for example, the fact that the attitudes behind sayings like “Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine” are indeed the precursors to the neo-con anti-feminists of today.  They’re put forth by the “preservers” of the ideals of “pure womanhood”—a figment of our cultural imagination contrived by a society that exists by refusing to admit that many of its members are actually human beings capable of making choices and acting in their own best interests. Not that I’m bitter.  By clinking a glass against the glass ceiling, the pieces in Make Mine A Double celebrate the stories of wine, women, friendship, and feminism as they’ve never been heard before. We’re coming out of the wine cellar and telling the truth in a way that few women have permitted themselves to do.

What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?
Older whiskey and younger women have always been the manifestation of a man’s accomplishment; that much we know. Historically, the bedrooms and the cellars of men of means were always fully stocked, while women, naturally, were meant to be in the kitchen—using only a little Burgundy for the Beef Bourgogne—and in the nursery where their breasts were manufacturing beverages to feed others.  One of the most appalling and often-repeated image of gendered drinking is from Hogarth’s “Gin Lane”: the woman who, bottle in one hand and baby in the other, has one breast flapping in the wind as her infant appears to be sliding off her arm; demon drink has captured her full attention. The idea is that women have never been able to handle liquor. A man can be in his cups, but a woman should always make sure her C-cup stays on straight.

And yet somehow women have always managed to drink.

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Documents: “A Female Junkie Speaks”

Consciousness Raising Session, 1969
(Photo: Mary Ellen Mark)

Editor’s Note:  A few days ago I articulated my interest in uncovering the radical feminist position on drug use and abuse—or in figuring out why radical feminists didn’t have one.  Now in the document-gathering phase, I’ve come across one early statement on drugs that seems particularly noteworthy.  “A Female Junkie Speaks,” which appeared in the collection Notes from the Second Year, a volume that might well be subtitled “greatest hits of women’s liberation,” is also difficult to obtain.  Edited by Shulamith Firestone, Notes collects various writings by the group New York Radical Women; it appeared in limited numbers in early 1970 and has never been reprinted.  Key essays within it form the canon of the movement and are widely anthologized– Pat Mainardi’s “The Politics of Housework,” Anne Koedt’s “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,”  Carol Hanisch’s “The Personal is Political,” and Kathie Sarachild’s “A Program for Feminist ‘Consciousness-Raising,’” (a later version is available here) to name just a few. 

“A Female Junkie Speaks,” however, is not a canonical text, despite its subject’s facility with key concepts in women’s liberation.  In this short “interview” with feminist poet and NYRW member Lucille Iverson, she articulates white middle-class culture’s propensity for the symbolic annihilation of women, theorizes the normative female subject position as a form of prostitution, and endorses women’s consciousness-raising and female community as key antidotes to oppression– and addiction.  But late in the piece, “Susan” notes her consciousness-raising group’s negative response to her admission that she is a drug addict; the text is frustratingly silent on what prompts the members’ “resent[ment].”   It concludes with a hopeful call to radical feminists to actively engage with “female junkies.”  Exactly why that call was not heeded will, I hope, be the subject of future posts.

A Female Junkie Speaks
Interview by Lucille Iverson
Susan, the girl speaking here, has been a drug-user and junkie off and on for almost ten years; she has recently joined Women’s Liberation.

No one can be liberated alone….

To come home and be all alone, man, I can’t stand that.

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Feminist Anti-Addiction Discourse: Towards a Research Agenda

Devoted Points readers may recall that over the last year contributing editor Michelle McClellan and myself have mused on the odd relationship—or lack thereof—between addiction studies and women’s studies. Given the high correlation between alcohol/drug abuse and a variety of forms of violence against women, as well as the demonstrated role that alcohol and drugs play in a hypersexualized consumer culture that enforces “hegemonic masculine and emphasized feminine” roles, we have puzzled over the relative lack of interest in alcohol and drug history and activism on the part of feminist researchers.

A Women's History Month Post

Where, we have wondered, is the feminist anti-drug-and-alcohol abuse discourse in the contemporary academy, on our campuses, and in the larger public health milieu? And, on a more traditionally scholarly note, where is it in the history of feminism—particularly in Second Wave feminism or in, as its radical offshoot is sometimes known, “women’s liberation”? In honor of Women’s History Month, it’s to this last question that this post is devoted.

Lest it be thought that only squares were concerned with the problems of alcohol and drugs back in the good ol’ days of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I direct your attention to anti-drug messages from the heart of the revolution: the Diggers’ “Uncle Tim’$ Children” and writings by the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords. Both outline the risks—personal and political—of the drug cultures that overlapped with, informed, and in some cases seemed to power the counterculture. The women’s liberation movement existed at the same time; participants in it were often also participants in other radical movements, and shared many of the same anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist frames of reference. Moreover, the women’s liberationist slogan “the personal is political” would seem to invite consideration of the motivations behind and ramifications of drug and alcohol use/abuse—more so even than the more performative and action-oriented philosophies of liberation rooted in masculinist struggles for public space, voice, and power.

Any Track Marks on that Arm?

It seems logical that the women’s liberation movement should be at least if not more concerned as its contemporaries about the toll exacted on its constituents by alcohol and drugs. Given that another similarity across these movements was a commitment to grassroots based print culture, it also seems reasonable to expect that we should be able to locate writings about the issue, which could form both an archive for historical research and, more practically, a usable past for contemporary activism.  With these logics in mind, I set out to cherchez les femmes des drogues.

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