What Do The Black Panthers Have Do With Acupuncture? (Spoiler- A Lot In U.S. History)

The following is a very fascinating historical lesson about African Americans and acupuncture in America. This is perhaps one of my most favorite newsletters I’ve ever done, in part because the more I read/wrote, the more amazing the history of acupuncture gets in U.S. history.

When you explore ye ol’ Google about how acupuncture evolved on our soil, one will read about how in 1972, Nixon and NYT journalist James Reston went to China. During the trip Reston ended up needing an emergency appendectomy. As acupuncture is woven into hospital and surgical care in China per their norm, doctors there used it to manage his pain. So impressed they were at the efficacy that Nixon and his crew demanded acupuncture be brought to the States.
But the historical tales tend to stop there and this is incomplete for 2 significant reasons:
1. Asian immigrants in the 1800’s right here were already doing it on U.S. soil for over 100 years.
2. For starters, medical apartheid in American was a very very real thing, and pretty damn hard to read about. In short, top U.S. universities and research centers literally used African Americans (esp women) in harsh, torturous and often lethal medical experiments (some rivaling Nazi camps). The medical justification was that blacks don’t feel pain. What came of this was a very bias and broken medical system that set blacks vitally behind in healthcare as a community, let alone becoming providers in the system or taken seriously in the position of medical experts. Medical apartheid went on into the 70’s. OUR LIFETIME.

Overlapping medical apartheid and segregation in the 70’s, drugs started hitting inner-city blacks hard, and it was up to blacks to sort it out as few programs existed to lift blacks out of the transition from slavery to apartheid and still rampant racism across America. Depression, violence, and drugs set in.

In the Bronx a group from the Young Lords, the Black Panthers, and members of the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement (a large organization of health workers) simply and literally walked in to take over the Nurses’ Residence building of Lincoln Hospital (which was defunct anyway) to attempt to salvage their own situation. While white police made every move they could for days to kick them out, they persevered (the stories in this story are fascinating but I am trying to remain succinct). It took A MONTH for government officials to yield and “allow” blacks to occupy the facility. 

Image from Taft Family History

In 1970 at the New York Lincoln Detox Centers’ The People’s Drug Program was created by blacks for blacks. In it, African Americans not only created the very 1st drug rehab treatment center to utilize acupuncture in the U.S., it was also the 1st group setting using acupuncture in a private institution in the US (AKA community acupuncture). 200 hundred drug addicts lined up on the very 1st day for treatment.

Methadone was the standard prescription for addicts but most at Lincoln created what might be the earliest “integrated center” ever in America, with the emphasis of acupuncture to avoid side effects and rebounds of pharmaceuticals. This always kept a target on their backs from police, “script doctors” and regulators. At Lincoln, acupuncture was initially used to treat addiction but eventually covered everything from stress to pain to PTSD in the facility. Not only THAT but for those savvy to the ear acupuncture protocol (I have used some of these points on many of you!) called NADA (now used almost universally in hospitals, rehab and veteran medical facilities for addiction and PTSD) was created in this center.

Onward, The Black Panthers went on to create one of Americas 1st acupuncture schools (the Harlem Institute of Acupuncture).

One of the most instrumental individuals in all of this is Dr. Mutulu Shakur who was born in 1950 in Baltimore MD. Dr. Shakur was the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Black Acupuncture Advisory Association of North America (BAAANA) and the Harlem Institute of Acupuncture. He worked at the Lincoln Center counseling and administering acupuncture.

Acupuncture, outliers and scandals! (I had no idea the medicine I practice was so racy in the U.S. (all puns intended?))

In the B/W photo above you will see Dr.Taft who was a graduate of Baylor Uni and huge advocate for the Lincoln center and racial equality, getting acupuncture by a detox therapist in training. Both he and Dr. Shakur had been working together for years, and then they became bank robbers. (right?!) During the height of the government wanting to shut down the Lincoln center Dr. Shakur was arrested for murder (it’s believed he never did kill anyone) and he’s been incarcerated in Fed prison since, and Dr. Taft was found dead in what appears to be a (poorly) staged murder stuffed in a closet (he was also shot months prior by unknown assassins- all of this just before he was to debate against Washington officials over the fate of the Lincoln Center that the government desperately never wanted opened or to remain open).

So. While Google tells us “Nixon brought acupuncture to the U.S.” in the 70’s, CLEARLY there is more to the story. Hats off to African Americans who adopted and evolved the medicine seriously and formally in the US, and Asians who migrated here in the U.S. that had already been doing it for hundreds of years, loooong before “the masses” in America accepted the medicine, many of which still don’t.

Of Part And Parcel
Everyone’s Place: Tanisha Dandridge (L.Ac. in Sacramento CA)
The Atlantic

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for using your platform to raise awareness of these important histories 🙂

    1. Sheila Liewald

      Thank you Eana for compiling data and sharing as well, and thanks for stopping by to comment.

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