The Jake Walk Blues: Intoxicants, Disability and Stigma in America

  • Mawdsley, Stephen (Principal Investigator)

Project: Research

Project Details


During America’s Great Depression the patent medicine Jamaica Ginger (JG) was adulterated with a toxic substance that could cause limb paralysis. Contaminated JG primarily afflicted white and African American sharecroppers and mill workers, who sought the medicine during Prohibition due to its high alcohol content. Between 50,000 and 100,000 people became afflicted, leaving survivors with lasting physical disability, limited economic opportunity, and severe social stigmas. Survivors and their families organized action groups, tested remedies, and pushed for legal recourse, while the federal government attempted bring the perpetrators to justice. Drawing on a rich collection of archival records, oral histories, blues music, literature, and historical newspapers, this project will explore the legacy of this forgotten episode in American history.
Short titleThe Jake Walk Blues
Effective start/end date1/05/161/05/21


  • alcoholism
  • patent medicine
  • disability
  • stigma
  • regulation
  • health
  • race


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.