The Only Hope Is a United Front: African American Anti-Drug Activism in the Era of Crack Cocaine

Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:50 PM
Embassy Room (Omni Shoreham)
Emily Dufton, George Washington University
When crack cocaine first debuted in the United States in the early 1980s, it descended upon urban interiors already ravaged by declining infrastructure, weakening tax bases, and prolonged periods of white flight. News specials that sensationalized "48 Hours on Crack Street" while mourning the cocaine-related death of University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias, irrevocably linked the heightened use of this cheap, smokable, and readily-available drug with hyperbolic accounts of uncontrollable black addiction and sexuality. A national obsession with the effects of crack cocaine combined with little productive action to reduce the larger negative effects of increasing urban poverty, leaving African American communities in areas like Washington, D.C., and Oakland, California, to fend for themselves against a drug that became synonymous with urban decline. 

Angry rhetoric but limited action by Congress combined with a Reagan administration reticent to use federal funds for drug rehabilitation and prevention, forcing grassroots activists to take anti-drug measures into their own hands. Like white parent movement activists battling adolescent drug abuse in the suburbs, urban black parent activists also used family-based prevention tactics to battle drugs. Yet black parent activism significantly differed from white activism in terms of drugs targeted, methods used, and results achieved.

My paper will explore this important, but long-neglected, history of African American parent activism in the larger war on drugs. I will outline the histories of select black parent activists, showcasing their importance and relevance to the larger narratives of parent movement activism and crack cocaine in the United States. I will show how black parent activists were some of the most vocal supporters for punitive laws against crack cocaine, arguing that black parent anti-crack activism represents some of the most significant and historically misunderstood aspects of our larger understanding of the American war on drugs.

<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation