From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Cocaine and Negroes in Kentucky, 1898-1914

Cocaine was an accepted and easily accessible drug prior to 1914: it was used in various ways, including in whiskey shots, syrups, tonics, cigars, nasal sprays, and many, many other products. When it became illegal in 1914, classified as a hard narcotic, there was a very racist side to the prohibition. Dr. Christopher Koch from Pennsylvania warned, "Most of the attacks upon white women of the South are the direct result of the cocaine-crazed Negro brain." The fear of a crazy, super-strong Black man on cocaine existed long before cocaine became illegal, but the fear had intensified during the period of enforced segregation; challenges to voting laws; the push for Negro political, social, and civil rights; and increased lynchings in the South.

During the last decade of the 1800s, crimes attributed to Negroes were often assumed to be linked to drug use. Police departments in the South began requesting larger caliber guns that could stop the so-called cocaine-crazed Negro. In Kentucky in July 1907, the State Board of Pharmacy began a crusade against druggist who sold cocaine to Negroes in an effort to stem the crime of supposed violence committed by Negroes in Kentucky and other Southern states. Warrants had been issued against druggists A. F. Solbrig and H. F. Cohn, Jr., both from Louisville, KY.

In 1903, The Cincinnati Lancet-Clinic, a journal, suggested that it was the Negro and prostitutes (lower class persons) who were most likely to have a cocaine habit, and Negroes with habits were most likely to commit crimes. But rather than hang the Negro, the article stated that it was the white druggist who should be hanged for selling cocaine to Negroes. It was also said that the states of Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Indiana were thought to have many of the "medico-pharmaceutical rascals," and supposedly, things had gotten so bad in Kentucky that the once loyal Colored servants could no longer be trusted. In 1898, the Bulletin of Pharmacy warned that there was a cocaine-craze among Negroes taking place in Louisville, Lexington, and Shelby County, KY.

For more see the video recording Hooked: illegal drugs and how they got that way, by the History Channel, et. al.; Dr. E. H. Williams, "Negro cocaine fiends are a new Southern menace," The New York Times, 2/08/1914, p. SM12; Snowblind: a brief career in the cocaine trade, by R. Sabbag; White Mischief: a cultural history of cocaine, by T. Madge; "Anti-cocaine crusade," The Pharmaceutical Era, 1907, vol. 38, p. 116 [available online at Google Books]; "The Cocaine Curse and the Negro," The Cincinnati Lancet-Clinic, 1903, vol. 89, pp. 599-602 [available online at Google Books]; and "Horrible," Bulletin of Pharmacy, 1898, vol. 12, p. 139 [available online at Google Books].

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Jefferson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Fayette County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Shelby County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Louisville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Lexington, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Cocaine and Negroes in Kentucky, 1898-1914,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 20, 2024,

Last modified: 2020-07-22 19:33:52