A quick trip to the drugstore sounds like a typically mundane shopping adventure we all have taken from time to time. Unfortunately, for Black Americans, especially during America’s Jim Crow segregation era, a trip to the pharmacy for prescriptions or other family needs was a more difficult endeavor.
For one, they could not just walk into any random drugstore during segregation because of potentially running afoul of bigoted attitudes within the community, of the owner, or of other customers. Secondly, the actual number of drugstores that served African-Americans was limited due to segregation laws and/or policies. This often meant needing to travel much longer distances. In rural areas, this may have meant there being no local resource(s) for prescriptions, while in urban areas it meant delays in receiving needed medications. Beyond the time and inconvenience, such disparities put the health and lives of many African-American needlessly at risk.
This post is meant to identify some of the pharmacies and pharmacists who historically served the Black community, as well as recognize those continuing to fill the gaps in African-American healthcare needs today. As noted by the Office of Minority Health,
“Black Americans continue to face persistent health care disparities. Compared with their white counterparts, black men and women are more likely to die of heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza, pneumonia, diabetes and AIDS, according to the Office of Minority Health.” SOURCE: khn.org
The list below is not meant to identify each and every Black-owned pharmacy in the country, but is intended to highlight some of the important ones, for which information is available, as well as to recognize those pharmacists who successfully broke color barriers. These brave pioneers often served their community while facing threats and/or hostile acts of racism. Several of those listed had their homes or businesses bombed, while others faced more subtle acts of bigotry and hatred.
As retailing trends have changed over the years and large chains now dominate the landscape, many locally owned drugstores have closed. Unfortunately, this has not only led to the loss of the physical structures that were occupied by historic Black-owned pharmacies, but with time, the gradual loss of their oral and written histories, as well.
While writing this post, it was troubling to discover how little information is attainable online about the contributions made by black-owned pharmacies to the communities they served. Many became neighborhood or community gathering places (third places), particularly in the day when drugstores included a soda fountain, ice cream counter, or a luncheonette (see photo below). Additionally, the professional pharmacists who owned and operated these businesses became visible leaders in the community, as well as positive role models.
Any additions, corrections, or suggestions to this post are most welcome.
The post begins with what is arguably the most noted Black-owned drugstore in the country (The 4th Street Drugstore in Clarksdale, MS) and certainly the most famous African-American pharmacist/civil rights leader who owned and operated it – Mr. Aaron Henry.
4th Street Drugstore – Clarksdale, Mississippi
Aaron Henry – Pharmacist
- Opened the 4th Street Drug Store in 1950
- Founding member of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership in 1951
- He was a frequent target of racist violence and police harassment in Clarksdale
- He was arrested 30 times – this included his being chained to the back of a city garbage truck to collect trash, as his penalty for protesting the inequalities of segregation and racism.
- Elected State President of the NAACP in 1959 and served in that role for 33 years
- Led multiple store boycotts in Clarksdale against retailers that discriminated against black residents and employees
- Both his home are pharmacy were fire-bombed in 1960s
- Co-founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party which was an interracial party established in hopes to replace the all-white Mississippi Democratic Party at the 1964 National Democratic Convention
- Mr. Henry served in the Mississippi Legislature from 1982 to 1996
- Led efforts for many years to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state flag
- The 4th Street Drugstore closed after it burned down in 1993
- Mr. Henry has been inducted into the Mississippi Hall of Fame
- Efforts are underway to establish the North Mississippi Civil Rights Museum on the site of Mr. Henry’s 4th Street Drugstore.
Barthwell Drug’s – Detroit, Michigan
Sidney Barthwell, Pharmacist
- Founder of the largest black-owned drugstore chain in the United States
- He borrowed $500 from friends and took over a failed pharmacy in 1933; renaming it Barthwell Drugs
- Eventually opened 13 pharmacy and/or ice cream shop locations in Detroit
- He prioritized the hiring other African-Americans or finding jobs for them at other pharmacies in the city
- Retailing trends and national chains eventually led to the closing of all of his stores by 1987
Carter’s Drugstore – New Bedford, Massachusetts &
Robert H. Carter & Co. – Boston, Massachusetts
Robert H. Carter, Pharmacist
- First African-American pharmacist in Massachusetts
- Eventually had three pharmacies in New Bedford and two in Boston
- Owned/operated pharmacies from 1876-1907
- Founding member of the Massachusetts Pharmacists Association
Cash Discount Drug Store – St. George, South Carolina
James Hodges, Pharmacist
- First African-American graduate of the College of Pharmacy at the Medical University of South Carolina in 1971
- Owned and operated the drugstore for 30 years
- Sold the drugstore in 2014
Caviel’s Pharmacy – Lubbock, Texas
Alfred & Billie Caviel, Pharmacists
- Founded and owned by Alfred and Billie Caviel, Sr.
- Both received their degrees in pharmacy from Texas Southern University
- First black-owned pharmacy in Lubbock
- First African-American couple to own and operate a pharmacy in the United States
- Mr. Caviel served on the Board of Lubbock Power & Light
- Operated the pharmacy for 49 years – from 1960 to 2009
- Family donated the building to Roots Historical Art Council for museum purposes in 2011
- The Caviel Museum of African-American History was established here in 2015.
- First African-American Museum in West Texas
Champion’s Pharmacy & Herb Store – Memphis, Tennessee
Dr. Charles Champion, Pharmacist
Dr. Rita Champion, Pharmacist
Dr. Carol Champion, Pharmacist
- After graduation from pharmacy school, Dr. Charles Champion first served as a pharmacist in the U.S. Army in Germany
- Dr. Charles Champion was the first African-American pharmacist to work in a Memphis hospital.
- He was also the first African-American pharmacist to work at a drugstore chain in Memphis.
- His wife, Carolyn Bailey, is the daughter of the owners of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis – the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination in 1968.
- Opened the pharmacy in 1981 and the family has been operating it ever since
- 1987 Pharmacist of the Year award winner
Children’s Drug Store – Little Rock, Arkansas
Frank Barbour Coffin, Pharmacist
- Bought the Jones Drug Company store in 1898
- Tutored area children after school, partially due to the popularity his soda fountain
- Three other black-owned pharmacies open in the general area after 1908
- Mr. Coffin published several books of poetry
Fielder & Brooks Drug Store – Meridian, Mississippi
Drs. Fielder & Brooks, Pharmacists
- Building was built in 1879 and bought by the pharmacists in the late 1940s for their pharmacy’s new location
- They had opened Meridian’s first black-owned drug store in 1934.
- The building’s second floor was site of the headquarters for the Civil Rights Movement in Meridian.
- The pharmacy remained in operation until 1984
- The building is listed as endangered by the Mississippi Preservation Trust.
Gate City Drug Store – Atlanta, Georgia
Moses Amos, Pharmacist
- Opened in 1914, in the new Odd Fellows Building, in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood
- Mr. Amos was the first black pharmacist in Georgia
- A lunch counter and post office were included in the store
- The building was restored in the 1980s.
Green Valley Pharmacy – Arlington, Virginia
Dr. Leonard Muse – Pharmacist
- Established pharmacy in 1952 with business partner, Mr. Waverly Jones
- First known African-American pharmacists in Arlington County
- Dr. Muse became the sole owner in 1955 and remained so for 65 years
- The pharmacy was a community gathering spot during the segregation era
Hamlin Drug – Raleigh, North Carolina (1904-2011)
James Edward Hamlin, Pharmacist ( from 1904-1957)
Dr. John Mitchell Johnson, Pharmacist (from 1957-2011)
- Founded by James Edward Hamlin in 1904 as Peoples Drug Store, but changed the name to Hamlin Drug in 1907
- Oldest Africa-American owned pharmacy in North Carolina
- Oldest drugstore in Raleigh
- Closed in 20111
Harrington’s/Edloe’s Professional Pharmacy – Richmond, Virginia
Dr. Leonard Lacey Edloe, Pharmacist (1945-1972)
Dr. Leonard Levi Edloe, Pharmacist (1970-2012)
- Originally operated under the name Harrington’s Pharmacy
- In 1968, Dr. Leonard Levi Edloe was the first African-American pharmacy student ever elected as national officer to the American Pharmacists Association.
- He was also the second youngest pharmacist elected to the American Pharmacists Association Foundation back in 1982.
- The drugstore offered free delivery by bicycle.
- Edloe’s Professional Pharmacy closed in 2012.
- Dr. Leonard Levi Edloe is also pastor of New Hope Fellowship
Hillside Pharmacy – Austin, Texas
Ulysses S. “Doc” Young, Pharmacist
- Opened in 1949 and continued in operation until 1976
- Mr. Young was Austin’s first African-American pharmacist
- Mr. Young was a pharmacist from 1928 to 1976
- Now the location of a well-known restaurant named “Hillside Farmacy” and contains many of the orginal fixtures (see second photo below)
- The building received a local historical building designation in 2018
C.C. Johnson’s Drug Store – Aiken, South Carolina
Dr. Charles Catlett Johnson, Pharmacist
- Built for Dr. Johnson by McGhee & McGhee, an all-black construction company, in 1920
- One of the first African-American businesses in Aiken
- Served blacks and whites together, including at the soda fountain during the height of segregation
- Dr. Johnson was instrumental in the establishment of the Aiken Graded School for African-American students in 1926
- Sadly, Dr. Johnson died from a heart attack in 1928
- The drug store continued serving the Aiken community until 1984.
Lane Drug Store/James Pharmacy – Old Saybrook, Connecticut
Peter Lane, Pharmacist
Anna Louise James, Pharmacist
- Built in 1790 and operated originally as a tavern
- Opened as Lane Drug Store in 1895 and added a soda fountain in 1896
- Peter Lane was one of the first African-Americas pharmacists in Connecticut.
- Sister-in-law, Anna Louise James started their in 1902 and received her pharmacy degree in 1908
- Ms. James ran the pharmacy after Mr. Lane left for WW I and the name was later changed to James Pharmacy
- Today, the building is a bed and breakfast.
Live & Let Live Drug Store – Mobile, Alabama
Dr. H. Roger Williams, Pharmacist
- Second African-American physician in Mobile in 1900
- First black-owned drugstore in Mobile – opened in 1901
- Served as Chairman of the Mobile Emancipation Association
- African-American Heritage Trail historic marker is in front of the drugstore’s former location (see above)
Manggrum’s Drugstore – Cincinnati, Ohio
William Manggrum, Pharmacist
- Cincinnati’s first black-owned drugstore was opened in the late 1920s
- Served as a neighborhood gathering place in Walnut Hills
- Mr. Manngrum’s wife Loretta was the first African-American graduate of the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in 1951
- Sponsored an amateur African-American baseball team in the 1930s and 1940s named “the Cincy Manggrums” (see photo above)
Medi Mart Pharmacy – Moss Point, Mississippi
Clarence Dubose, Pharmacist
- Mr. Dubose was the first African-American graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy in 1975.
- He opened Moss Point’s first and only black-owned pharmacy in 1978.
- More than 40 years later, Mr. Dubose continues to serve the people of Moss Point.
Palmer’s Rexall Pharmacy – Lexington, Kentucky
Dr. Zirl Palmer, Pharmacist
- Dr. Palmer received his degree in pharmacy from Xavier University of New Orleans because his home state of West Virginia prohibited African-Americans from attending public professional schools.
- Opened his pharmacy in 1961 – the first black-owned pharmacy in Lexington
- First pharmacy on the east side included his office and a luncheonette
- A second location on the city west side was bombed in 1968 – Dr. Palmer, his wife, and four-year old daughter were injured and trapped in the rubble for hours.
- Dr. Palmer closed his remaining location in 1970 to protect his family after a jury found the former Grand Dragon of the local KKK guilty of the 1968 bombing.
- He served as a Walgreen’s pharmacist after 1970.
- Dr. Palmer was elected the first African-American member of the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees in 1972.
- Efforts are under way to preserve the original location by the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation (see photo below)
Radio Pharmacy – Denver, Colorado
O.L. “Sonny” Lawson and Hulett A. Maxwell, Pharmacists
- Radio Pharmacy (originally Maxwell & Lawson Drugstore) operated in the city’s Five Points neighborhood from 1924 to 1963.
- Mr Lawson and Mr. Maxwell were both pharmacists and co-owners.
- Mr. Lawson was very active in helping young African-Americans start their local political careers.
- Denver’s first city park named for an African-American was dedicated in 1972 to Sonny Lawson.
Roseland Pharmacy – Chicago, Illinois
Howard Bolling, Pharmacist
- Mr. Bolling bought the former Pullman Pharmacy location and opened in 1973.
- He and the pharmacy have been a pillar of the community for more than 47 years.
- Few other pharmacies exist in this underserved area of the city.
- In the late May 2020, his pharmacy was among the Chicago businesses that were looted in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd.
- At 81, he is rebuilding his business with the help of a GoFundMe fundraiser campaign started by a former Roseland resident, Jada Campbell. To date, nearly $45,000 has been raised.
Savannah Pharmacy – Savannah, Georgia
Multiple pharmacists over the years, particularly from the Fonvielle family:
Dr. Joseph Earl Fonvielle (from 1920 to 1954)
William Earl Fonvielle, Jr. (1954-1955) – killed in a robbery
Frances E. Fonvielle (from 1955-1998)
William Earl Fonvielle, Jr. (from 1998-2007)
- Second oldest continuously operating black-owned business in Savannah when in closed in 2007
- Founded along with Dr. Walter E. Moody – Dr. Moody passed away in 1942
- At one point there were five (5) locations in the city
- Forced to relocate the original pharmacy to the building shown below by construction of Interstate 16
- The city bought the building in 2009 and intends to preserve it and list it on the National Register of Historic Places
Smith Drug Co. – Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Dr. Hammond Smith, Pharmacist
- Owned and operated by Dr. Smith from 1925 to 1980
- The store had an important role in educating African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement and was a hub for voter registration efforts.
- The city purchased the store and intends to preserve it as an event center and museum in the 6th Street Museum District.
Smith’s Pharmacy – Newport News, Virginia
Multiple family who members served as pharmacists here:
Dr. Charles Calvin Smith, Pharmacist
Dr. Charles Calvin Smith, Jr., Pharmacist
Dr. Margaret Smith Taylor, Pharmacist
Charles “Chuck Smith, III, Pharmacist
- Dr. Smith, Sr., opened the first black-owned pharmacy in Newport News in 1921.
- Building was designed by Henry Lewis Livas, Architect, one of the first African-American architects in the state of Virginia
- First floor built in 1946 as pharmacy and the second floor added in 1952 for offices
- Was a community center on Sundays after church as residents gathered for ice cream
- The interior is virtually intact from when first built
- Remained in the Smith family from 1946-1999, when it was bought by Eckerd Drug
- Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002
Stewart’s Pharmacy – Toledo, Ohio
Ella P. Stewart & William W. Stewart, Pharmacists
- In 1916, Ella was the first African-American woman to graduate from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy.
- Ella was one of the first African-American woman pharmacists in the country and the first licensed one in Pennsylvania.
- Opened their pharmacy in Toledo’s Pinewood neighborhood in 1922
- Stewart’s was the first black-owned drugstore in Toledo
- The Stewart’s hosted several notable out-of-town guests in their upstairs home, including W.E.B. DuBois and Mary McLeod Bethune.
- Owned and operated the store until they sold the pharmacy in 1945
- Ella was an avid volunteer for local, national, and international organizations, including service on the United States Commission to UNESCO.
- A girls academy is named for her in Toledo
- Ella was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame and the Toledo Civic Hall of Fame