During the early to mid-1900s African-Americans did not go to the doctor or get medical attention as needed. For many of them they didn’t have the money, lived too far out in rural areas to travel for every little illness. Not to mention just getting in contact with a doctor when you needed them was extremely difficult. So, many families relied on old remedies that had been passed down from generation to generation. Here are a couple of interesting stories found about how different families took care of their own medical needs.
Phillip H. Scriber Sr. gave his recollection of what happened growing up when he someone in his family got a cold. One remedy his father would give would be a couple of drops of kerosene on a spoonful of sugar. Another was liver oil and castor oil and the three 6’s (666). It was explained that the medicine three 6’s got it’s name because it taste like the devil. If someone had swelling somewhere on the body, there was a wild plant that looked like tobacco they would use. The plant would be boiled and then the liquid from it would be used to soak the elbow, knee or whatever part had swelling. It would often help reduce the swelling. Another remedy used would be Sassafras root to make tea. Anything else they would just ride out the sickness until it ran its course.
Joseph Aloysius Lawrence born 1925 recalled how the earache was handled. First of all during his time if you had a loose tooth, you put a string around it to pull it out. But if you got an earache, the elders during that time would use something called sweet oil. The sweet oil was warmed up and then put on a spoon; it would then be poured in the person’s ear to help cure the ache. His family also used 666 for colds.
Laurence M. Chase White born in 1938 had a recollection of what it was like to step on a nail and not go to the doctor. In White’s words, “bad, bad, bad, bad.” However, there was a remedy that was used at home, back during those days they didn’t get tetanus shots. So, his mother would wash the area really well, and use Quinine. The foot would be soaked in hot water and quinine. His mother would also go out in the field and retrieve green shiny plants and put it on the area to soak out the poison. But, that’s not all a piece of sawed off fatback meat from a hog was used to wrap the wound up in, that was used to draw out the soreness. White remembered the use of Epsom salt as well. It was used for constipation, soreness and arthritis. People would bathe and soak in it. It didn’t matter how things taste if they thought it would cure you they used it.
These recollections were taken from the African-American contributions site. Please visit their site for more oral and written recollections.