St. Petersburg, Florida: n.d. (1960s?). Advertising card, 23 x 15 cm., printed on both sides on stiff card stock, stapled to a flat wooden stick, allowing for its use as a fan. Recto shows four black & white photo illustrations of two little boys, one African-American, one white, making use of the pectoral plaster. Each photo illustration has a caption title: "Put the Plaster over the Pain;" "Cures lames back;" "Prevents Pneumonia;" "Takes the Ache." The white child places the plaster on the African-American child's back, on his chest, and on his abdomen. In the last photo, the African American child is eating a large slice of watermelon. One additional smaller photo at the base of the card shows the boys side by side. On the verso is the text of an ad for a Florida druggist: Webb City Drug Store, St. Petersburg, FLA., Owner "Doc" J.E. Webb. Claims for the pectoral plaster are repeated, presumably ironically, and in bold letters the racist statement: "It Will Not Make Black White." Item #3204
"Fanning" the flames of racism in Florida, ca. 1960: "It Will Not Make Black White."
This item is of twofold interest: it is a reproduction of an advertisement for quack medicine from the early 1900s, which was utilized as an advertisement for a racist pharmacist / merchant decades later.
THE RACIST MERCHANT: "Doc" J.E. Webb was a modern-day P.T. Barnum, a master merchandiser who employed dancing chickens and "talking mermaids" to promote his products. He started his drug store in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1925, which grew over the next several decades into a massive department store known as Webb's City, "World's Most Unusual Drug Store." It maintained separate water fountains for "Whites Only" and "Colored Only" and restricted African-Americans access to the store lunch counter. By June 1960 the NAACP and members of the Black community began actively and publicly picketing and staging “sit-ins” at Webb’s City, their chief complaint being that "Doc" Webb did not hire African-Americans: out of 1,700 employees, only 150 were African American and none of those employees were allowed positions for advancement within the business. "Doc" Webb filed a restraining order to halt NAACP protests at Webb’s City, and NAACP countered. In a series of legal moves that lasted four years, and went all the way to the Supreme Court, a final judgment was reached (in 1964) owing to the fact that Webb's City had "lifted" racial barriers, but protests and further litigation continued.
THE QUACK DOCTOR: James Cook Ayer (1818-1878) was a clerk at the Lowell apothecary shop of J. Robbins in 1838 when he began to study chemistry and to assist a local physician. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a medical degree and turned his attention to pharmaceuticals, inventing "Dr. Ayer's Cherry Pectoral Plaster" in 1841. He was a master at advertising his products and was a millionaire at his death. [see his brief biography in the Atwater catalogue, Vol. 3 (supplement), pp. 41-2]. His "Pectoral Plaster" invention was advertised as early as 1898 and is not known to have had any medicinal benefit.
While the present artifact is undated, it may in fact originate from the 1950s or 1960s, evidently to "fan" the flames of racism.
¶ See Webb's obituary in the New York Times on June 5, 1982.