By Red Cross Greater New York Region
From the beginning, African Americans have played an important role in the mission of the American Red Cross. Here we salute the accomplishments of some remarkable individuals who achieved recognition and prominence through service.
African American involvement in the American Red Cross goes back to the beginning of the organization. After the Civil War, Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, met with famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass and talked about establishing a Red Cross Association in the United States. Mr. Douglass supported Miss Barton's efforts and continued to support the work of the Red Cross after it was founded in 1881.
In 1915, Frances Elliott Davis, a professional nurse at Freedman's Hospital in Washington, D.C., applied for American Red Cross service. Undeterred by initial rejection, Ms. Davis persisted and in 1917 became the first African American Red Cross nurse officially approved by the organization. Her nurse's pin was inscribed with "1-A" on the reverse. The "A" designated the wearer as an African American, and this practice continued until 1949.
Anticipating the need for a stockpile of blood reserves if the United States entered World War I, the U.S. government asked the Red Cross to establish a program for blood collection and plasma processing for the military. The pilot center was set up through the Red Cross chapter in New York City and began operations at Presbyterian Hospital in February 1941.
Dr. Charles R. Drew, one of this nation's foremost physicians and a pioneer in blood collection and plasma processing, was chosen as medical director of the project. This National Blood Donor Service for the military was later expanded to include a blood program for civilians and was the forerunner of today’s Red Cross Blood.
In 1989 Gwendolyn T. Jackson became the first African American to be appointed Red Cross National Chairman of Volunteers. The office of National Chairman of Volunteers was established in 1953 as the second highest volunteer position. Prior to this appointment, she served as Chairman of the Board and Executive Committee of the Greater Milwaukee Red Cross Chapter.
Dr. Jerome H. Holland was the first African American to be named Chairman of the American Red Cross. Dr. Holland was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. The Chairman, the highest officer in the organization, is a volunteer and presides over the Board of Governors.
During his term as American Red Cross chairman, Dr. Holland took the lead in consolidating the growing laboratory operations of Red Cross Blood Services programs. Because of this, a 110,000 square foot biomedical research and development facility in Rockville, Md., was named the Jerome H. Holland Laboratory for the Biomedical Sciences in his honor.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides comfort to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; distributes international humanitarian aid; and supports veterans, military members and their families. The Red Cross is a nonprofit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to deliver its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org/la or CruzRojaAmericana.org, or follow us on Twitter at @RedCrossLA or @CruzRojaLA.