Root doctors are the traditional healers and conjurers of the rural, black South. They use herbs, roots, potions, and spells to help and sometimes to hurt recipients of their ministrations. Root doctors are still common in the region and found in many rural areas of North Carolina. The practice of “working roots” is familiar to many African Americans living in the South, though apparently not as commonly known today among whites. Voodoo is a more widely known version of the conjuring tradition most associated in the popular imagination with New Orleans, although the term “voodoo” or “hoodoo doctor” was commonly applied to root doctors in other parts of the South.
The ideas and practices that came to define the root doctor undoubtedly had their origins in the folk beliefs of West Africa, the region of origin of many of the people brought to the South as slaves in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The root doctor traditionally treats natural ailments with various remedies made from such plants as mint, jimson weed, sassafras, and milkweed. Some remedies have genuine medicinal properties, while others are at least soothing, and the psychosomatic effect of any remedy cannot be underestimated. Treating a victim of a spell is more complicated. The individual might be sick, inexplicably drawn to someone, or experiencing profound anxiety. The doctor must first discover if conjuring is the cause of the problem. The severity and suddenness with which the symptoms appeared may provide a clue, or sometimes physical evidence of the spell exists. A powder, often known as “goofer dust,” may be found. Once the doctor determines that the problem is a spell, he or she must prescribe the proper rituals and potions to restore harmony to the patient’s life.
Root doctors may also be asked to “put a root” on someone, a process that often involves concocting goofer dust from such elements as graveyard dirt and powdered snake or lizard. A wife may ask a root doctor to put a root on her husband to stop him from seeing other women, while a man pining for a woman might ask the doctor to work a spell on the object of his affection. Finally, root doctors may also prescribe a “mojo” to ward off spells. One North Carolina mojo described in several sources is a dime worn around the ankle. A small bag filled with a preparation made of various plant and animal ingredients and worn around the neck has also been a popular mojo. In an often hostile and capricious world, the mojos, spells, and herbal preparations of the root doctor have provided believers with treatment of their ills, protection, a way of hurting enemies and attracting lovers, and, importantly, a sense that they need not be passive victims of circumstance or fate.
Wayland D. Hand, ed., Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina, vols. 6 and 7 (1961, 1964).
Lawrence W. Levine, Black Culture and Black Consciousness (1978).
Holly Matthews, “Doctors and Root Doctors: Patients Who Use Both,” in James Kirkland and others, eds., Herbal and Magical Medicine: Traditional Healing Today (1992).
Stitt, Van J., Jr. “Root Doctors as Providers of Primary Care." Journal of the National Medical Association 75, no. 7 (July 1983). 719–721.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Mules and Men. HarperCollins, 2009.
Dr. Thomas N. Harris was among Mobile’s first African American physicians. Graduated from the Meharry Medical College in Nashville in 1899, he operated the Dr. T. N. Harris Private Medical Infirmary located at St. Francis and Warren streets. The city’s African American community was fond of calling Dr. Harris “Santa Claus” because, as he aged, his beard turned white. Erik Overbey Collection, The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama.
He later started his own company to synthesize steroid intermediates from the Mexican wild yam. His work helped greatly reduce the cost of steroid intermediates to large multinational pharmaceutical companies, helping to significantly expand the use of several important drugs.
During his lifetime he received more than 130 chemical patents. Julian was one of the first African-Americans to receive a doctorate in chemistry. He was the first African-American chemist inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, and the second African-American scientist inducted from any field.
WOMEN IN HISTORY: Patricia Era Bath (1942) Ophthalmologist and Inventor Patricia Bath’s invention of the Laserphaco Probe was an important milestone in the advent of laser cataract surgery. Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness (1976) committed to “protect, preserve, and restore the gift of sight.” She broke ground for both women and African Americans in medicine and ophthalmology, including being the first African American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell- Astrophysicist; Discovered radio pulsars (her advisor won the Nobel prize for this). Has been the President of the Royal Astronomical Society, The Institute of Physics, Royal Society of Edinburgh and elected Pro-Chancellor of the University of Dublin.
Elizabeth Blackburn- Molecular Biologist; She co-discovered telomerase the enzyme associated with the repair of telomeres (part of chromosomes). Won the Nobel prize in Medicine in 2009 for this research. On January 1st, 2016 she will become the president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
Vera Rubin - Astronomer; who did pioneering work on the rotation of galaxies. This work formed the foundation of the current study of Dark Matter.
Mae Jemison - Physician and NASA Astronaut; First African American to travel in space; also practiced medicine in the Peace Corps.
Melissa Franklin - Experimental Particle Physicist; Her team found some of the first evidence for the existence of the top quark.
Darleane C. Hoffman - Nuclear Chemist; was part of a team that confirmed the existence of the element Seaborgium.
Ingrid Daubechies - Mathematician, and the first women to serve as the president of the International Mathematical Union. Her research is on wavelets in image compression.
Sylvia Earle - Marine Biologist; The first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Mary-Claire King - Geneticist; is known for identifying breast cancer genes, demonstrating that humans and chimpanzees are 99% genetically identical, and using genomic sequencing to identify victims of human rights abuses.
Susan Solomon - Atmospheric Chemist; She and her team proposed the chloroflurocarbon free radical reaction mechanism, which explains the hole in the ozone layer.
The doctor is in! ‘Doc McStuffins’ reveals changing face of medicine
Drs. Aletha Maybank, Naeemah Ghafur and Myiesha Taylor helped start a “We Are Doc McStuffins” movement.
By Geoffrey Cowley
As TV doctor dramas go, Doc McStuffins is no ER. The protagonist is a cartoon preschooler who provides primary health care for stuffed animals from a backyard play house. In a typical episode, she diagnoses her little brother’s teddy bear with acute “dusty musties” and prescribes a good laundering. The brave bear rides the waves and emerges from the washing machine clean enough to snuggle the boy without aggravating his allergies.
If you think this is generic kidstuff, think again. In the 11 months since Disney Junior launched Doc McStuffins, the show has become cable TV’s top-rated preschool series and, more important, the spark of social movement. Why are viewers, activists and health professionals heralding this sweet little show as the best thing since penicillin, or at least since the Huxtables?
Because McStuffins―black, female, roughly five years old―fills a void in popular culture and brightens a lonely corner of American health care. African-Americans make up 13% of the population, yet barely 4% of the nation’s doctors are black, and only 1.9% are black women. Our health care suffers for that lack of diversity, and so do thousands of black youth hungry for career opportunities.
“The country needs a health care system that reflects its own diversity,” says Dr. Myiesha Taylor, an emergency physician based in Dallas. “You’d be surprised how many people still think ‘doctor’ means ‘old white guy.’ If we can build on what Doc McStuffins is doing, the next generation of patients will have a different view of the medical profession, and so will children of color.”
When she started raving about the show on her Facebook page, her posts struck a chord with other black women in medicine. Within a few weeks, Taylor had persuaded scores of them to add their portraits to a “We Are Doc McStuffins” collage, which she sent off to Disney as a gesture of thanks and support. And as the collage itself went viral, she saw the seeds of a movement. That’s how she came to found the Artemis Medical Society, a new organization devoted to drawing black women into medicine and supporting those who dare to crash the gates.
The society—named for the goddess of hunting, healing and childbirth—now boasts 2,500 members.
No one knows if any of this will change kids’ expectations, but there are good reasons to try. “Where are the real opportunities for kids from the hood?” Taylor asks. “They dream of making it in sports and entertainment, but there’s only one position for Beyoncé and there’s a huge unmet need for primary health care.”
The need will likely explode in coming years, as the Affordable Care Act draws millions of previously uninsured people into the health care system, and the nation needs a broader medical workforce to keep pace. Minority health professionals are more likely than others to practice in underserved communities, and they bring cultural competence as well as technical skills.
Taylor, who trained in Los Angeles, remembers how flummoxed she was when Latino patients would tell her their bones hurt. “I’d say, ‘How do you know? How can you tell it’s not your muscles?’ But I was missing the point. Anyone from the community would have known that was just a way of saying, ‘I’m really, really tired.’ If you know the community, you’re in a better position to provide good care.”
You’re also in a better position to gain people’s confidence. The scars of Tuskegee still run deep in black America, and so does mistrust of the medical establishment. In surveys, nearly a third of African-Americans agree that “AIDS was produced in a government laboratory” and up to 27% believe that the federal government created it “to kill and wipe out black people.” Vaccines and birth control foster similar suspicions, and the suspicions don’t die easily.
“When I talk to black patients, some start out thinking I’m part of the conspiracy,” Taylor says, “but I can usually break through.” Maybank, the New York City pediatrician, describes a similar dynamic. When patients resist mainstream health advice, she reminds them that a black man, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, performed the world’s first heart surgery. And as an African-American doctor, she has the standing to tell a skeptical parent that without vaccines, “our kids would still be dying of polio and smallpox.”
Maybank has come a long way from her cloistered childhood in Harrisburg, Penn. She attended Johns Hopkins as an undergraduate, got a medical degree at Temple University, and went on to study public health at Columbia. She now serves as an assistant commissioner for the New York City health department, running a district office in Brooklyn—and she works overtime as a role model for kids who want to emulate her. Last Saturday found her deep in the heart of the Bronx, wearing a bright red dress and a sleek leather jacket and wowing an auditorium full of teens and young adults from the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
“I don’t always see people of color in my profession,” she says, “so it’s great to see all of you in this room. We need to build each other up.” Over the next several hours, the students quiz Maybank and a lineup of mostly-minority health professionals about the fears and barriers they’ve overcome, the rewards of caring for people, and the qualities they’ll need to succeed.
If Holden and Taylor and Maybank and Ghafur achieve their goals, the McStuffins generation will include many more African American women, and the face of American medicine will become less monochromatic.
…I know I should have done more intensive research through sites other than Wikipedia, but I’m procrastinating on finals enough as it is. xD Just wanted to make a post about this wonderful woman because some of her ultrasound technology methods have helped in my own treatments for my now defunct left eye, which lost vision in 2010 due to a vitreous hemorrhage. Her inventions have helped with treatments for my right eye, to prevent the same issues. She also helped advance the idea of “community ophthalmology” which helps to offer eye treatment to racial minorities and the poor population. I’m not a minority, but I’m super poor, and was denied treatment for my left eye before coming to Sweden, which resulted in the loss of the eye. She’s amazing and has done wonderful things for cataract treatment and science and medicine in general.