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Why They Took the Cocaine Out of Coca-Cola

19th Century racism fueled the company's decision to extract coca from the soft drink.

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Coca-Cola's racist history resulted in a
drug-free drink. Photo via

By Ben Feuerherd

02/04/13

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Prior to the turn of the 20th century, the all-American soft drink known as Coca-Cola contained a not-so-wholesome ingredient: cocaine. It was removed—not for health reasons, or to protect the children—but because of racism, explains Grace Elizabeth Hale in the New York Times. The drink originally catered to rich white people in the south, who were the only ones with access to segregated soda fountains; but in 1899 it was bottled, and anyone with five cents could enjoy a coke. This was unsettling to whites of the Jim Crow era south, who believed rising drug use among black people was leading to higher incidents of rape of white women. "Middle-class whites worried that soft drinks were contributing to what they saw as exploding cocaine use among African-Americans," writes Hale. "Southern newspapers reported that 'negro cocaine fiends' were raping white women, the police powerless to stop them." This bogus assumption was so prevalent that US State Department official Dr. Hamilton Wright said in 1910: "The use of cocaine by the negroes of the South is one of the most elusive and troublesome questions which confront the enforcement of the law ... often the direct incentive to the crime of rape by the negroes." Following these allegations, Coca-Cola began extracting the psychoactive ingredients in the coca originally used in the soda, but the process was not perfected until 1929.

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