25 May 2012

Coke Fiends

For God, Country, and Coca-Cola by Mark Pendergrast, 1999, Excerpts

Cocaine, the 1885 wonder drug, had become the 1900 scourge of humanity, and in the South it allegedly caused crazed Negroes to attack their bosses and rape white women. A major race riot occurred in Atlanta, though it primarily involved whites attacking blacks rather that vice versa, caused by inflammatory newspaper accounts of black “brutes” attacking white women. There may have been vestiges of truth behind the sensational headlines, since many farmers were giving cocaine to their black sharecroppers in lieu of food, and cocaine in the city, where 50 cents bought a week’s supply, was a cheaper high than alcohol.

Virtually every town in America had a Coca-Cola bottler. No longer simply a soda fountain drink for upper-class urban white processionals, Coca-Cola was increasingly consumed by blacks. Sensational stories of “Negro coke fiends” attacking whites caused many to fear the widespread availability of Coca-Cola. As the century turned, so did public opinion, and in 1900 Candler found himself under intensified pressure to reform his “dope.”

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