This black pharmacist bought and turned a drugstore into the largest pharmacy in Detroit in the 30s

Stephen Nartey April 18, 2023
Photo credit: Loma Linda University School of Pharmacy

Sidney Barthwell, like many other African Americans during his time, faced racial discrimination when he graduated and tried to find work. Despite possessing a degree in pharmacy in 1929, he was repeatedly turned away from potential job opportunities, solely because of the color of his skin. However, Sidney refused to give up and continued to persevere until he was finally hired to work at a pharmacy in Detroit.

When the pharmacy was hit with challenges, Sidney saw it as an opportunity to prove himself. He worked hard and diligently, going above and beyond his duties to ensure customer satisfaction. His hard work and dedication paid off, and in 1933, he was able to purchase the pharmacy and renamed it Barthwell Drugs. He soon transformed the business into a successful enterprise, which became a pillar of the community, and a beacon of hope for other African Americans facing mutual challenges – his chain of drugstores was the biggest in Detroit at the time.

Sidney was born on February 17, 1906, in Cordele, Georgia, and studied at Lucius H. Hosley Academy of Excellence in Fitzgerald. He moved to Detroit, Michigan, in 1922 and attended the Lewis Cass Technical High School, where he focused on studying pharmacological sciences. His financial predicament was so dire that the Dean of the college at Detroit Institute of Technology, now Wayne State University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, paid for his diploma, which was $25 at the time.

Despite operating a successful business, he experienced several challenges with many banks due to racial discrimination. His business model was to open a new pharmacy every two years, and with hard work and perseverance, he eventually owned 13 pharmacies in Detroit. Since white-owned pharmacies were not enthused about employing black workers at the time, he used his facility as a home to accommodate aspiring pharmacists, and either employed or assisted those he could to get jobs as pharmacists

Sidney operated a healthy business until Detroit’s infamous freeway construction through the black bottom. His businesses could not withstand the fierce competition, and his last store unfortunately closed in 1987. Despite that, Sidney’s legacy lives on, and his story serves as a reminder of the resilience and strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 18, 2023


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