Reflections on Martin Luther King Jr. Day–Pharmacies, Pharmacists and Civil Rights

Students who took the History of Pharmacy at UCSOP in Fall 2014 know that Soda Fountains played a major role in American History. In fact, soda fountains, typically located inside pharmacies were central to the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself participated in soda fountain protests and cited the sit-ins as a major force in the civil rights initiatives particularly in the Southern United States.

In addition to soda fountain sit-ins, pharmacists throughout the U.S. were instrumental in fighting for civil rights—some long before the soda fountain sit-ins—all made contributions to civil rights, humanity, and the profession.

  • Aaron Henry, a pharmacist from Clarksdale was elected head of the Mississippi NAACP in 1960
  • Henry Rutherford Butler, a respected physician and pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia was a pioneer in medicine and health care for African Americans during the late 19th and early 20th centuries
  • 1948, Chauncey I. Cooper, dean of the College of Pharmacy at Howard University, became the founding president of the newly formed National Pharmaceutical Association. Cooper’s vision for the new association was to help minority pharmacists enter the mainstream of American pharmacy. In addition to his duties as dean and leader of the National Pharmaceutical Association, Cooper waRobert Gibsons active in the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, the American Pharmaceutical (now Pharmacists) Association (APhA) and the Washington District of Columbia Pharmaceutical Association, where he served as executive director for 11 years.
  • In 2006,Robert D. Gibson was awarded pharmacy’s highest honor, the Remington Medal, making him the first African-American to receive it. Gibson’s career as an educator at the University of California, San Francisco, was hallmarked by his efforts to gain inclusion for all minorities.

Learn more about these contributors to the history of our country and the profession by accessing resources available through the Association of Black Health Systems Pharmacists at:

Learn more about the historical importance of soda fountains and pharmacies in relationship to Civil Rights by visiting:

Have a contributor you’d like to recognize? Please add them to the comments section of this blog post.

Contributed by: Dr. Susan Gardner, Assistant Dean for Professional and Student Affairs/Assistant Professor (Course Coordinator for PHAR 546: History of Pharmacy)

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