Black American History: Substance Use and Prevention

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — February 12, 2020 — 4 min read
Some of the earliest efforts to address substance use and the impacts it has on a person’s health, well-being and family can be traced to the temperance movement.

Temperance was a social movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s against the consumption of alcohol. Participants often promoted complete abstinence from alcohol, citing its negative impact on people's health, lives and families.

The work to address the impact of substance use continues today with efforts to the opioid epidemic now affecting millions of Americans.

In recognition of February as Black History Month, here are some Black Americans who have been influential in addressing substance use:

Frederick Douglass, who lived from 1818 to 1895, was a leading temperance movement advocate in addition to his efforts to help abolish slavery. In the 1800s, slave masters hosted drinking contests for slaves that Douglass saw as a means of controlling them. Douglass viewed sobriety as a key strategy in the emancipation and full citizenship of Black Americans. He also considered drinking alcohol a danger to the Black man’s survival. [Photo credit: Biography

Sarah Jane Woodson Early, who lived from 1825 to 1907, was a temperance movement leader who served as the Superintendent of the Department of Colored People in the South within the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in the 1880s. She gave 100 speeches on the topic in five states. She also was the first Black woman employed as a college teacher (she was not given the title professor) when she was hired in 1858 to teach English at Wilberforce University in Ohio.
[Photo credit: History of American Women]

W.E.B. Du Bois, PhD, who lived from 1868-1963, was the first Black American to complete doctoral degree at Harvard University. He wrote The Souls of Black Folks, Black Reconstruction in America. Du Bois also was a civil rights activist and an early supporter of temperance, which he saw as a strategy of self-development within Black communities. He later became critical of the movement when he saw it being used as a tool for social oppression and control of Black Americans. 
[Photo credit: Wikipedia]

Chaney Allen wrote one of the first autobiographies of a Black American in recovery. Her book I’m Black and I’m Sober was published in 1978. Allen also founded both the California Black Commission on Alcoholism and the California Women's Commission on Alcoholism. Allen has trained counselors on more culturally sensitive ways to work with minorities with alcohol problems. 
[Photo credit: goodreads]

Dr. Beny Primm, who died in 2015, helped found the Addiction Research Treatment Corporation (ARTC) in 1969. ARTC, located in Brooklyn, N.Y., is one of the largest minority non-profit community-based substance abuse treatment programs in the country, treating over 2,300 men and women from underserved communities. Primm was a proponent of medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction, and a longtime leader within the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence. Four U.S. presidents including President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush selected Primm to serve as a consultant on substance use and public health issues. Primm was the first director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He also served as the U.S. representative on issues of drug addiction and AIDS to the World Health Organization in Geneva. [Photo credit: Mentoring in Medicine]

Frances Brisbane, PhD, is a recognized leader in the effort to enhance the cultural competence of social workers and addiction professionals in the United States. She is Dean and Professor of the School of Social Welfare, State University of New York at Stony Brook and the Dean of the Black Alcoholism and Addictions Institute, which is co-sponsored by the National Black Alcoholism and Addictions Council in Washington, D.C., and The Morehouse Research Institute of Morehouse College. In 1985, Brisbane co-authored Treatment of the Black Alcoholic with Maxine Womble, prominent leader in the National Black Alcoholism Council.
[Photo credit: Stony Brook University]

Dr. Carl Bell, a Chicago psychiatrist who died in 2019, studied mental health issues in the Black community including the impact of fetal alcohol syndrome. Bell wrote more than 400 books and academic journal articles on addiction/co-occurring disorders, violence prevention, HIV prevention and fetal alcohol syndrome in the Black community. In 2018, he published research titled Fetal Alcohol Exposure in the African-American Community. [Photo credit: Meharry Medical College]

Dr. Andrea Barthwell, former president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), served as Deputy Director for Demand Reduction at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George W. Bush. Barthwell is now developing ways to expand access to treatment for opioid dependence disorder and helping people prevent substance use disorders. [Photo credit: McKesson]

Lula Beatty, PhD, is director of the Special Populations Office, Office of the Director, at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). She works to create efforts encouraging more minority scholars to do drug abuse and addiction research. Beatty has received awards for her work to get more women and minorities involved in research. She also has been recognized for pushing for research on drug abuse and addiction in health disparity populations. [Photo credit: Virginia Commonwealth University]

John R. Larkins, D.S.W., a North Carolina native who died in 1980, wrote Alcohol and the Negro: Explosive Issues (published in 1965). His book was one of the first to examine the history of alcohol use and related problems within the Black community. 
[Photo credit: NC State University]
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