Democracy Now! celebrated Black History Month with feature on Maya Angelou that included footage of her little-known past as a calypso singer and dancer. Another little-known fact about Angelou is that she smoked marijuana, which she vividly described in her book “Gather Together in My Name,” the sequel to “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
“Walking on the streets became high adventure, eating my mother’s huge dinners an opulent entertainment, and playing with my son was side-cracking hilarity,” she wrote.
Black women, and men, have been at the forefront of the marijuana revolution, perhaps for a very long time. Some think the Queen of Sheba was from Ethiopia and that the spices she took to King Solomon included cannabis.
Alexandre Dumas, the author of “The Three Musketeers” and member of Le Club des Hashishins in the mid-1800s, was one-quarter black, the son of a half-Haitian slave who became a general in Napoleon’s army. His “Count of Monte Cristo” calls hashish “nothing less than the ambrosia which Hebe served at the table of Jupiter.”
Beloved trumpeter Louis Armstrong first tried marijuana in the mid-1920s, and smoked it all his life, including before performances and recordings. “It really puzzles me to see marijuana connected with narcotics, dope and all that kind of crap,” he said. “It is actually a shame.”
Josephine Baker, who took Paris by storm with her dancing starting in the 1920s, once presented a “loving cup” filled with marijuana to drummer Buddy Rich. Another dancer named Louise Cook, nicknamed “Snake Hips,” appeared in Oscar Micheaux’s breakthrough 1931 film “The Exile.” She also turned comedian Milton Berle onto pot.
Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues, was considered “a living symbol of personal freedom” during her lifetime and recorded a song with the line, “Gimme a Reefer” in 1933. Queen Latifah, who was once caught with pot, recently portrayed Bessie in an HBO biopic.
The Temptations’ Otis Williams told an interviewer recently,
“I used to smoke a lot of grass, that was my thing.” The group’s song “Take a Stroll Through Your Mind” from their 1970 album “Psychedelic Shack” has been called “an overt 8-minute ode to marijuana usage.”
When asked by talk show host Andy Cohen in 1993, “When was the last time you smoked marijuana?” Oprah Winfrey replied, “Uh, 1982.” (Cohen then said, “Let’s hang out after the show,” to which Winfrey said, “Okay. I hear it’s gotten better.”)
Whoopi Goldberg was caught on tape admitting she’d smoked “the last of my homegrown” before accepting her Oscar in 1991, and she now writes a column for the Denver Post about her love of the herb.
NFL Rushing Leader Ricky Williams (2002) recently appeared at The Emerald Cup on a panel about marijuana and football. Former Navy intelligence officer and talk show host Montel Williams has publicly spoken about his use of medical cannabis to treat his MS, and was an early celebrity investor in a cannabis dispensary (long before Snoop got into the act with Eaze).
Actor Morgan Freeman who has played God, the U.S. President, and Nelson Mandela (twice), has become more and more upfront about his love for the marijuana. “Never give up the ganja. It’s God’s own weed,” he told The Guardian in 2003.
Are you interested in the history of marijuana?