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More Issues of the Africo-American Presbyterian Available

Masthead of the Africo-American Presbyterian from 1880

We’ve recently added more issues of the Africo-American Presbyterian (Wilmington, N.C.) from 1925 to 1938 thanks to our contributors UNC Chapel Hill and Johnson C. Smith University. These editions also offer more regular coverage since we’ve been able to add one from nearly every week in this period.

One notable article from the August 20, 1891 issue (from an earlier batch) gives us insight into some of the peculiar medical practices that shaped how we think about addiction today. The headline reads, “Dr. Keeley’s Cure for Drunkenness.” 
Newspaper clipping of "Dr. Keeley's Cure for Drunkenness."

The treatment proposed here is to inject “bi-chloride of gold” four times a day as an “antidote” to the “disease” of drunkenness. The author of this article compares it to using quinine to treat malaria and mercury to treat syphilis (no longer recommended). 

Wilmington wasn’t the only city excited about Keeley’s cure; Leslie E. Keeley actually opened his first clinic in Dwight, Illinois and advertised his cure heavily. By 1892, there were over 100 Keeley clinics throughout the U.S. and Europe reportedly treating 600 people per month.

As chemistry buffs may know, “bi-chloride of gold” would be called dichlorogold today, and it is not used to treat drunkenness or alcohol poisoning. The name seems to have been a bit of a misleader anyway, since Keeley’s real recipe was a mystery. This led the medical community to be a bit more skeptical of Keeley, and his medical license was revoked in 1881 (though it was reinstated a decade later due to procedural issues)

Despite the unreliability of Keeley’s particular recipe, he was one of the first doctors to popularize the idea that addiction is a bodily disease rather than a personal failing.

“The weak will, vice, moral weakness, insanity, criminality, irreligion, and all are results of, and not causes of, inebriety,” Keeley wrote.

And aside from the injections, Keeley’s approach to treating addiction was unlike most methods of the time. According to the article in the Africo-American Presbyterian, patients received the injection “in their own rooms at prescribed hours,” suggesting that they received personal treatment. Some have suggested that a placebo may have also accounted for the success of the treatment; Keeley boasted of 60,000 “graduates” of his program by 1892, indicating its widespread popularity. 

Whatever the reasons for his success, Keeley seems to have enjoyed popularity among the Christian publications of North Carolina.

A newspaper advertisement

An advertisement for the Keeley Institute in Greensboro, N.C. (1910)

You can see all the issues of the Africo-American Presbyterian here. You can also visit the partner pages of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Johnson C. Smith University for more materials. Visit the Johnson C. Smith University website for more information about the school.


The Star of Zion newspaper now on DigitalNC

Thanks to funding from the North Caroliniana Society and from the UNC Libraries IDEA grants, one of the oldest African American newspapers in North Carolina, and the longest continuously published, is now online.  The Star of Zion, which is still published today, began publication in 1876 by the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church.  Issues covering 1884 through 1926 are now on DigitalNC, digitized from microfilm.  The earliest years we digitized are published in a few different places, including Petersburg, Va. and Salisbury, NC.  Beginning in 1896, the paper moved publication to Charlotte, NC where it is still published today.  

Front page of the Star of Zion paper, features several formal posed photographs

Issue highlighting the 1923 graduates of students at schools affiliated with the AME Zion Church

The topics covered by the paper are heavily focused on church activities, including reports from pastors across the country about their localities.  Other topics are also covered, including commentary on political issues of the day.  The papers in 1884 feature the full Republican ticket for the presidency and down, which the editors heartily supported.  The issues in the later years have a wider focus on both issues of the day and church news. 

Quote from Star of Zion paper

An editor’s note from the November 19, 1986 issue.

A rather interesting feature that also pops up often in the paper is a presence of a real rivalry with other denomination based African American publications in the state.  One particularly humorous note was posted by the editor in the November 26, 1896 issue of the paper, noting that the Africo-American Presbyterian was lauding the honorary degree Biddle University (now Johnson C. Smith University) had conferred on George White, elected to serve in the 2nd Congressional District from NC (and the last Black Congressman to serve before Jim Crow).  The editors of the Star noted that Livingstone College, the AME Zion affiliated school in North Carolina, had already given one to him in May of that year.  College and religious rivalries are timeless. 

Screenshot of text from a newspaper editorial.

 Note from the Editor of the Star of Zion in the November 26, 1896 issue

To view more North Carolina African American newspapers, visit our exhibit.  To view more projects supported by the UNC Libraries IDEA Action grants, visit these posts.  


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