Varieties of Spiritual Experience: Magic, Occultism, and Alternative Supernatural Traditions among African Americans in the Cities, 1915–39

  • Yvonne P. Chireau


Chicago, early 1920s: African American businessman Mason Pryor places an advertisement in the national weekly, The Defender. Pryor was providing services that he believed would attract black city-dwellers, particularly those who had recently migrated to Chicago’s “Bronzeville” district, of which he was a resident. The text was simple and direct. Amid the clutter of print advertisements that hawked skin lightening creams, race records, and cheap household furnishings, Pryor offered concise, understated assurances to The Defender’s readers:

Good news for all men. Simply wash the hair. Oh boy. Dr. Pryor’s Japo Wonder Soap is the only preparation on the market that will straighten the hair without turning it red or injuring the scalp. The latest scientific discovery. Will not give the hard, porcupine effect, but makes the hair soft and wavy.1


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  1. 2.
    St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1945) 477.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Milton Sernett, Bound for the Promised Land: African American Religion and the Great Migration (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1977).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Allan H. Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto, 1890–1920 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1970) 175.Google Scholar
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  5. 8.
    George McCall, “Symbiosis: The Case of Hoodoo and the Numbers Racket,” in Mother Wit from the Laughing Barrel: Readings in the Interpretation of African American Folklore edited by Alan Dundes (New York: Garland Publishing, 1981) 419–27.Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    Claude McKay, Harlem: Negro Metropolis (New York, E.P. Dutton, 1940) 106Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    On the rise of Conjure in the context of black culture history, see Yvonne Chireau, Black Magic: African American Religion and the Conjuring Tradition (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  10. James Breeden, ed., Advice Among Masters: The Ideal of Slave Management in the Old South (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980) 170.Google Scholar
  11. 17.
    See Chireau, Black Magic; see also Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion: The Invisible Institution in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Gayle T. Tate and Lewis A. Randolph 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yvonne P. Chireau

There are no affiliations available

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