Dream Books, Crystal Balls, and "Lucky Numbers": African American Female Mediums in Harlem, 1900-1930s

By Harris, LaShawn | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Dream Books, Crystal Balls, and "Lucky Numbers": African American Female Mediums in Harlem, 1900-1930s


Harris, LaShawn, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


During the late 1990s, self-proclaimed Jamaican psychic "Miss Geo" appeared in nation-wide infomercials offering tarot card readings, one-on-one psychic consultations, and spiritual guidance on matters concerning money, family, and love. Miss Cleo and her promoters, the multi-million dollar syndicate Wahgwaan Entertainment and the Psychic Readers Network, offered pay-per-call psychic service and attracted consumers via the Internet, direct mail, and through infomercials. Miss Cleo, whose real name was Youree Cleomill Harris, was not Jamaican nor did she possess psychic powers. Prior to taking on the persona of "Miss Cleo,'" Harris was an actress and entertainer in Los Angeles, California and Seattle, Washington and performed as a character named "Miss Cleo" in a play entitled Supper Club Cafe. In 1999, "Miss Cleo" and Wahgwaan Entertainment and the Psychic Readers Network were publicly accused of being con artists and frauds. They faced lawsuits in several states, and in 2002, the Federal Trade Commission charged the "Jamaican shaman" and her business partners with deceptive advertising, billing, and collection practices." (2)

Youree "Miss Cleo" Harris belonged to an established historic tradition of African American women who claimed to possess psychic and supernatural abilities. During the colonial and antebellum periods, some enslaved and free black women were considered conjurers, practitioners of magic, and spiritual workers who fused African rituals, traditions, and worldviews with those from Anglo-American Supernaturalism. (3) In My Southern Home or The South and Its People, black abolitionist William Wells Brown observed that "nearly every large plantation had at least one, who laid claim to be a fortune teller, and who was granted with more than common respect by his fellow slaves." (4) Antebellum British actress France Kemble in her account of her husband's Georgia rice plantation on Butler Island discusses the supernatural ability of an enslaved woman "prophetess" named Sinda. According to Kemble, Sinda was praised on the plantation because she possessed the gift of sight. Sinda was so much respected by the enslaved community that when she prophesied that the "world was to come to an end at a certain time, the belief in her assertion took such possession of the people on the estate, that they [the slaves] refused to work; and the rice and cotton fields were threatened with an indefinite fallow, in consequences of this strike on the part of the cultivators." (5) For some enslaved African Americans, the supernatural world was crucial in helping them cope with the day-to-day drudgery of plantation life. Some slaves believed that magic powders and spells would prevent physical abuse and being sold, and provide some with the courage and opportunity to runaway or defy their owners. Supernatural traditions and the use of magic charms and amulets were "integral to slaves" strategies of resistance" and "helped to build an inner and autonomous black world." (6)

Similarly, like their ancestors of the past, some African Americans during the early twentieth century believed that "supernatural traditions were integral" to helping them dealt and overcome limited employment and economic hardship, and race, class, and gender discrimination. According to Yvonne Chireau, "for many blacks, supernatural ism revealed why suffering occurred and indicated who or what was responsible, thus explaining and locating the disease or misfortune within communally based norms and idioms of the spiritual world ... and facilitated individual agency and empowerment." (7) African Americans' belief in the supernatural and the power of self-professed conjurers and mediums stemmed from cultural and religious traditions practiced by enslaved people, and from their encounters and experiences with un-conventional and non-institutionalized religious practices in urban communities during the Great Migration. Many black men and women turned to self-professed African American female clairvoyants such as Mme. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Dream Books, Crystal Balls, and "Lucky Numbers": African American Female Mediums in Harlem, 1900-1930s
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.