As Coca-Cola’s Chief Historian since 1977, I read with disbelief the opinion column written by a University of Virginia professor in the New York Times (“When Jim Crow Drank Coke”) on Jan. 29. The lengths taken by Dr. Grace Elizabeth Hale to try to link the history of America’s favorite and most inclusive drink – Coca-Cola – to racism are both absurd and appalling.
First off, Coca-Cola does not contain cocaine, and cocaine has never been an added ingredient for Coca-Cola.
As to the column’s claims of racism, the truth is that Coca-Cola has always been a drink for everyone. From the turn of the century to the mid-1950s the promise of a “nickel Coke” made the product widely available to Americans of all means, with no barriers of race or class. And by the late 20th century, Coca-Cola was sold in almost every country on the globe – marketed, manufactured and distributed locally by people representing every race, religion and creed.
Dr. Hale’s assertion that Coke ignored the African-American market is simply untrue. As early as 1914, there is documentation showing that Coca-Cola was being served in African American-owned soda fountains, including the Gate City Drug Store, the first black-owned pharmacy in Atlanta. In fact, Jamal Booker, a Coca-Cola Archivist, just published an excellent piece in this magazine on the fight for civil rights at the soda fountain (“Fighting for Civil Rights at the Soda Fountain”).
Coca-Cola’s connection with the NAACP is that we have always supported local organizations that make our communities stronger. We firmly believe we can only be successful when we contribute to the health and strength of the local communities we serve. And, proudly, our history in more than 200 countries around the world proves it.
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