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Red Cross Celebrates African American History Month

February is African American History Month and the American Red Cross pays tribute to the men and women of color who contribute to our humanitarian service – our employees, volunteers and donors.

Here are the stories of several people who are a part of our history:

Frances Reed Elliot Davis was the first African American nurse to be accepted into the American Red Cross Nursing Service. An orphan by the age of five, she became part of the foster care system and taught herself to read and write. Davis graduated from Knoxville College and entered the Freedmen’s Hospital Training School for Nurses in Washington, D.C. She was the first African American to pass the extremely difficult final exam.

In 1918, she was accepted as the first African American in the Red Cross Nursing Service. She made numerous contributions to the Red Cross, serving as the director of nurses training in Tuskegee, Alabama, and organizing the first training school for African-American nurses in Michigan. She managed prenatal, maternal and child health clinics in Detroit and ran a commissary at the Ford Motor plant during the depression to provide workers with food. She also established a nursery in Michigan that was so successful she caught the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt who raised funds for the center.

Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator who was active in African American affairs and served as a special adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the problems of minority groups. She was instrumental in establishing a relationship between the American Red Cross and the African American community in the early 1900s. She was a graduate of Scotia Seminary in Concord, North Carolina and the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. After marrying Albertus L. Bethune, she taught in several schools in the South. In 1904, Bethune opened a school in Daytona, Florida, the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls. She had to real assets to start, but worked hard within the Daytona Community. First the school merged with the Cookman Institute for Men and in 1929 became known as Bethune-Cookman College She served as president of the college on and off until 1947.

Dr. Charles Drew, a surgeon, pioneered methods of storing blood plasma for transfusion and organized the first large blood bank in the country. He was a graduate of Amherst College and McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where he earned both Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degrees. He did his internship and residency at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Montreal General Hospital. During this time, Drew studied with Dr. John Beattie, and they examined problems and issues regarding blood transfusions.

After his father's death, Drew returned to the United States. In 1938, he received a Rockefeller Fellowship to study at Columbia University and train at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. There, he continued his exploration of blood-related matters with John Scudder. He received his doctorate degree in 1940, the first African-American to earn this degree from Columbia.

As World War II raged in Europe, Drew was asked to head up a special medical effort known as "Blood for Britain." He organized the collection and processing of blood plasma from several New York hospitals, and the shipments of these life-saving materials overseas to treat causalities in the war. In 1941, Drew spearheaded another blood bank effort, this time for the American Red Cross. The Biomedical Services Charles Drew Institute is named for him.

Dr. Jerome Holland, an educator, was appointed chairman of the Red Cross Board of Governors in both 1979 and 1982. His legacy is his mission to help provide the safest blood possible to those in need. The American Red Cross Jerome H. Holland Laboratory for the Biomedical Sciences is named in his honor. Holland was the driving force behind the current phase of biomedical research and development at the Red Cross; the national center for biomedical research and development.

Holland’s first term on the Red Cross Board of Governors began in 1964 and ended in 1970 when he was appointed United States ambassador to Sweden. Upon his return to the United States, President Jimmy Carter appointed Holland as chairman of the Red Cross Board of Governors in 1979. In addition to consolidating Red Cross biomedical research into the Holland Lab, he began programs to raise disaster relief funds for the organization and was instrumental in building the international services department within the Red Cross, and in building close ties with other Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world.

Gwen T. Jackson began her Red Cross career in 1961, as a volunteer in the Service to Military Families Department of the Greater Milwaukee Chapter of the American Red Cross. By 1988 she had risen to one of the highest volunteer positions in the organization – National Chair of Volunteers. Her leadership accomplishments during her four years in the national-level position were nothing shy of extraordinary. While serving as the National Chair of Volunteers, Mrs. Jackson coined the phrase, “Paid staff get a paycheck and volunteer staff get a payback.”

She was honored for her 50 years of volunteer leadership with the establishment of the Gwen T. Jackson Leadership Endowment. Some of her additional accomplishments include: Cynthia Wedel Award, an honor that is presented to a Red Cross volunteer whose outstanding efforts might otherwise go unrecognized.

Steve Bullock, former CEO of the Greater Cleveland Chapter of the Red Cross, served as our Acting President in 1999. He enjoyed a distinguished career with the Red Cross. He was named chief executive officer and chapter manager of the Greater Cleveland Chapter in 1982. Prior to assuming this position, he worked for the Red Cross in military installations in the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Mr. Bullock also previously served as executive director of the agency's St. Paul, MN chapter.

In 1988, Steve Bullock was named chairman of the president's advisory committee, a group of senior Red Cross field executives which counsel top management on issues facing the organization. Another highlight of his career occurred in 1995 when Mr. Bullock was appointed to head the 1996 national American Red Cross campaign. Mr. Bullock received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and Sociology at Virginia Union University and a Master's Degree in Business Administration at the College of St. Thomas. He has also done graduate work in urban administration; attended the American Red Cross Executive Development Institute; and is a graduate of Leadership Cleveland.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.