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Dr. E. P. Read

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Dr. E. P. Read compounding a formula in his herb laboratory, circa 1936; he uses a balance-beam scale to weigh out ingredients; raw herbs are stored in glass apothecary jars
Dr. E. P. Read compounding a formula in his herb laboratory, circa 1936; he uses a balance-beam scale to weigh out ingredients; raw herbs are stored in glass apothecary jars

Dr. E. P. Read, also known as E. Parker Read, PhD or Edward Parker Read(1868 - 1940), was a renowned conjure doctor, astrologer, herbalist, shop-keeper, author, and businessman whose practice flourished from 1890 until his death. His public career began in Lawnside, New Jersey, a town founded by abolitionists for free persons of colour and escaped slaves to live in peace. In the optimistic aftermath of the Civil War and Emancipation, he became a judge in the 2nd District Small Cause Court and a notary public in Center Township, Camden County, New Jersey. He was a colleague of the great African American social philosopher W. E. B. Du Bois, and was influenced by him to take up the cause of civil rights activism. in 1913, Read published Watchman: The Light of Civilization, The Leverage of Wealth, a political pamphlet "Dedicated to the 50th Anniversary of Negro Freedom in America." In this work, he outlined what he saw as the three roads to Black social equality in a racist society. First, he considered "passive obedience" to the law, which he deemed unacceptable "because yielding to injustice sets a precedent for wrong." Next, he took up the proposition of "resistance to civil authority by armed individuals," which he deemed "uncertain," because it is founded on "vainglory and ambition" and "it dissolves the social tie and destroys what it has taken many years to accomplish." Finally, he proposed "suffering in the cause of right," a personal commitment to social progress that might include individual martyrdom, in which "we act as we believe to be right, in the defiance of oppression ... appealing to the reason and conscience ... of society." This third choice became the guiding light under which he lived.

Around the same time that he made his declaration of principles, Read began work on "The National Afro-American Encyclopedia," a detailed and continually updated publication that compiled the names and addresses of all Black court clerks, pastors, and school superintendents in America, plus the locations and dates of incorporation of all Black churches, businesses, hotels, fraternal organizations, schools, colleges, and professional organizations in the country. The dual purposes of this book were to celebrate Black pride and progress, and to provide a way for Black motorists to move from town to town and find safe places to stay, gain employment, and do business in a time of oppressive racial prejudice and segregation. He then joined the board of the Cosmopolitan Industrial Educational Institute to help train a rising generation of urban Black youths to take on significant roles in American society and founded the United Advance Beneficial Fraternal Order of Ethiopians, a combination fraternal lodge and group insurance plan. He also invested in the Eureka Sanatorium Sanitation Association, which purchased the Virginia Medical Mineral Springs and operated it as a spa and resort that served a Black clientele during an era when all other such venues were segregated, with a Whites-only policy. Within a few years he had become a prosperous land-developer and entrepreneur who owned The Eureka Building in Lawnside, New Jersey, a four-story block of buildings with a real estate office, a garage, and a store at sidewalk level, plus 50 hotel-style apartments for rent above, outfitted with electric lights, steam heat, baths, and a shared sun parlour for guests.

In 1889, Read became the first person of colour to own and operate a drugstore; this was in Petersburg, Virginia. In 1890, Read became the first Black businessman to open a drug store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By 1894, he was manufacturing and selling herbal remedies. His products included Japanese Hair Vigor, said to increase hair length by 2 inches in one month, and Quick Relief Female Pills, ostensibly for the palliation of menstrual cramps, but most likely an abortifacient containing Black Cohosh. His best seller was the Divinum Herb-Mineral Remedium, a combination of 37 potent herbs and minerals selected to treat a variety of common complaints. By the early 1920s, Dr. Read had extended his property ownership to include several buildings on South Street and Lombard Street in Philadelphia. It was then that he came to true national prominence as an herbalist, conjure doctor, and astrologer. He purchased the formulas of an elderly man of Native American descent and continued to operate the former owner's Powhatan Indian Herb Manufacturing Company and Indian Medicine Company, to which he added two other businesses he bought, the T. B. Donaldson Medicine Co. and the East Indian Remedy Company. His own African-American style Herbs of Life brand was then incorporated, with the other four brands, under the Nature's Laboratory name, with offices in Philadelphia and New York City. Dr. Read personally prepared horoscopes for clients and, as a conjure doctor, he manufactured old-school spiritual supplies such as Hin-Do Devil Chaser Incense. His full line of more than 1,000 botanical remedies included everything from Peppermint to John the Conqueror roots, and, of course, mineral salt tablets obtained by evaporating the waters of the Virginia Medical Mineral Springs, "Your Drink To Health." His clients were located throughout the United Sates, and he kept their letters to him, answering their deepest personal questions through spiritual and astrological readings and by prescribing roots and herbs for both medical and magical conditions. He sold numerological dream books for lucky number gambling as well as conjure spell-books, such as "Legends of Incense, Herb, and Oil Magic" by Lewis de Claremont, and he stocked de Claremont's line of Oracle Products conjure oils in his shop, The Indian Drug Store. When he passed away at the age of 72, Dr. E. P. Read left a lasting legacy of spiritual, magical, and political practice that has been an inspiration to those who have followed in his footsteps.

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