Then and now: Celebrating Black History Month, recognizing African American contributions to Red Cross

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

February 1, 2021- It’s 1860, and there’s an outcry from voters who can’t accept the results of that year’s election. Abraham Lincoln is declared winner, without carrying a single southern state. Before his inauguration, seven southern states secede from the union, followed by others soon thereafter. Civil war ensues. 

As the Civil War concludes in 1865, Clara Barton is commissioned by Abraham Lincoln to locate missing soldiers. She sends 63,000 letters and locates 22,000 missing men. The American Red Cross is founded 16 years later in 1865 in Washington, D.C., and is still in charge of contacting armed service members.

With Lincoln gone, Reconstruction effectively fails, and thousands of freed slaves are forced to return to the plantations and their former owners. Many stayed along the eastern coastline. In 1893, the country’s largest recorded hurricane hit the coastal islands with a storm surge of 10 to 12 feet and 20-foot waves on top of that, killing up to 3,500 inhabitants, 92% of which were Black.

Clara Barton answered the call to this huge disaster, the biggest to date for the Red Cross. The U.S. Congress refused to provide any aid short of some seeds, tents and a couple deep-draft boats. All the funds to care for 30,000 displaced persons had to come via requests for donations from Clara, who got newspapers to run the story across the entire eastern half of the U.S.

Frances Reed Elliott Davis

Possibly motivated by Clara’s efforts, 10-year-old Frances Reed Elliott Davis was growing up in North Carolina and had lived through that storm. Despite being orphaned, she taught herself to read and write. Wanting to become a nurse, she entered nursing school in 1910. She was the first African American to pass the final board exams in Washington, D.C. Eight years later, she became the first officially recognized African American nurse to be accepted into the Red Cross Nursing Service.

That same year, Red Cross nurses combated the worldwide H1N1 influenza epidemic. With the returning injured troops from World War I, and the raging pandemic, Red Cross volunteers grew to 20 million adults and 11 million junior members. 

Later, in Michigan, Davis helped organize the first training school for African American nurses at the Dunbar Hospital. In the 1940s, Davis established a childcare facility that caught the attention of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who helped plan for and fund the center.

Mary McLeod Bethune

About this time, Mary McLeod Bethune was serving as an advisor to President Roosevelt. She became the highest ranking African American woman in government when the president named her director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, making her the first African American woman to head a federal agency.

Bethune was one of five committee members who made recommendations on the blood plasma project, the use of African American staff in overseas service clubs, the enrollment of African American nurses, and the representation of African Americans on local and national Red Cross committees and staff departments.

Dr. Jerome Holland

During his time as president of Hampton University in 1964, Dr. Holland became a member of the American Red Cross Board of Governors. He served as a member until he resigned in 1970 to become the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden. He was the second African American to lead a delegation in any European nation.

Dr. Holland was later appointed by President Jimmy Carter to be the chairman of the American Red Cross Board of Governors in 1979, and was the first African American to hold this position. Because of his commitment to the Red Cross, he was appointed again in 1982.

While serving on the board, Dr. Holland showed a passion for blood research and took the lead in consolidating growing laboratory operations for the Red Cross Blood Services program. He also encouraged Red Cross regions to integrate their volunteers so important services could be extended to the entire community, regardless of a person’s ethnicity or background.

We salute them

History has a way of repeating itself. Whether it is a pandemic flu, a giant, slow-moving hurricane or the need to improve blood research, the same needs are still being met by the Red Cross today. To contribute to the cause, click here. To volunteer and do your part to help others in need, click here.

Other African American contributions

To read more about the contributions of other African Americans to the American Red Cross, you might like these articles:

Steve Bullock – Acting President of American Red Cross in 1999

Frederick Douglass – Friend of Clara Barton

Gwen T. Jackson – American Red Cross Board of Governors

Dr. Charles Drew –  Blood Bank Pioneer

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Red Cross celebrates Black History Month

By Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist, American Red Cross of the Northeast Ohio

February 6, 2020- February is Black History Month and the American Red Cross is celebrating by paying tribute to the men and women who played a pivotal role in shaping the organization.

Here are some of the humanitarians who helped shape the Red Cross:

Steve Bullock – Serving Where the Need is Greatest

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Steve Bullock began his career with the Red Cross in 1962, working as a caseworker. His work took him and his family to military posts throughout the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Twenty years later, he became the Chief Executive Officer and Chapter Manager of the Greater Cleveland Chapter.

Bullock culminated his career at the American Red Cross in 1999, when he was named acting president of the national agency in Washington, DC. He took on the role leading the organization after the resignation of Elizabeth Dole, who recommended him for the post. While serving as acting president, he headed a team of staff members and news media who brought 60,000 pounds of relief supplies to Macedonia to aid nearly 140,000 ethnic Albanian refugees driven from their homes in Kosovo.

Read our previous blog article to learn more about Steve Bullock and his impact on the Greater Cleveland Chapter.

Frederick Douglass – An Influential Ally in Founding the American Red Cross

Frederick Douglass

A leading spokesman of African Americans in the 1800s and friend of Clara Barton, Mr. Douglass offered encouragement when Clara Barton sought advice and support in her efforts to gain U.S. acceptance as a member nation of the global Red Cross network. Douglass’ name is on an appeal for funds after the 1882 Mississippi flood. He also, in his capacity as Register of Deeds for the District of Columbia, signed the original Articles of Incorporation for the American Red Cross when they were submitted to the municipal authorities. The articles legally documented the creation of the American Red Cross.

Gwen T. Jackson – A Dedicated Volunteer Leader Across Decades

Gwen Jackson

Gwen T. Jackson began volunteering with her local Red Cross chapter in 1961, and by 1989 she was the first African American to be appointed as the National Chairman of Volunteers for the American Red Cross. During her tenure, she implemented the results of the Volunteer 2000 Study, completed in 1988 to study the downturn in volunteerism and provide a blueprint for future growth.

While serving with the Red Cross, Jackson provided assistance during major disasters such as Hurricane Hugo and support during the Persian Gulf War. She later became a member of the American National Red Cross Board of Governors in 1992 and was re-elected for a second term in 1995. Jackson was presented with the Cynthia Wedel Award, an award given to outstanding Red Cross volunteers, for her 50 years of dedication and volunteer leadership in 2003. She currently holds an appointment as Chair Emeritus of the American Red Cross Milwaukee Chapter.

These leaders represent the Red Cross’ commitment to diversity and inclusion, to help deliver the mission of the Red Cross and to represent the communities we serve. We look forward to seeing the future leaders who will continue the legacy  of these great humanitarians and lead the Red Cross to great achievements.

Steve Bullock’s Red Cross legacy is local and national

Local leader once helped guide the National American Red Cross 

By Eilene Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

February 22, 2019 – Steve Bullock’s career with the American Red Cross spans six decades. During that time, he has been one of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers and paid staff striving to help Americans and people around the world prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.

But there’s one thing no other Red Crosser will ever be able to claim: Steve was the first African-American to sit at the helm of our nation’s premier humanitarian organization.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a more inspiring role model than Steve,” said Mike Parks, Regional CEO of the Red Cross in Northeast Ohio. “It’s no wonder our Northeast Ohio Red Cross Humanitarian Award is named in his honor. He has lived a life of service to mankind.” Parks added “I am humbled by his friendship and continued support.”

Steve Delano Bullock was the youngest of 22 children born to a sharecropper family in segregated North Carolina. He was in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1962 when he first volunteered with the Red Cross. He found a fit in the organization that upholds impartiality – not discriminating on the basis of nationality, race, religion, class or political beliefs – as one of its fundamental principles.

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By 1998, Steve had been executive director of the Greater Cleveland Chapter of the Red Cross for 15 years when he was tapped to serve as interim president of the American National Red Cross in Washington, DC.

Steve had already distinguished himself as a model of leadership: Having led successful chapters in St. Paul, Minn., and Cleveland, in 1988 he was named chairman of the President’s Advisory Committee, a group of senior Red Cross field executives who counseled top management on issues facing the organization. Several years later, he was appointed to head the 1996 national American Red Cross fundraising campaign.

Meanwhile, in Cleveland, he oversaw the launch of Operation Save-A-Life, which aimed to reduce injuries and deaths due to home fires by providing residents in at-risk neighborhoods with fire safety education and free smoke alarms and installations. That initiative has been adopted by the Red Cross nationwide and as of the end of 2018, more than 1.5 million alarms have been installed and more than 500 lives have been saved.

When the call came from Washington, Steve was no “filler” between high-profile national leaders. He quickly outlined his “100-day plan” to enhance the organization’s strengths, support local chapters, strengthen international relationships and address problems in the blood services division. “It’s a matter of making sure we’re performing at an excellent level,” he said.

That commitment to excellence led him to found The Bullock Group, a Cleveland-based management consulting firm focused on strengthening nonprofits. He has also shared his expertise by taking leadership positions in a wide variety of civic organizations as well as University Heights City Council and his alma mater, Virginia Union University.

Steve has distilled his experience as an African-American leader in a predominantly white society into a book, “My Name Is Steve Delano Bullock: How I Changed My World and The World Around Me Through Leadership, Caring and Perseverance.” Through it, he wants to empower others to succeed in business and in life, regardless of any hurdles before them.

Read more about Steve Bullock and other African Americans who have helped shape the Red Cross here.

Celebrating a Red Cross Pioneer During Black History Month

By Christie Peters, External Communications Manager, Biomedical Services

Dr-Charles-Drew

During Black History Month this February, the Red Cross celebrates the legacy of blood-banking pioneer Dr. Charles Drew.  Dr. Drew was an African-American surgeon who became the medical director of the first Red Cross blood bank in 1941. Drew’s research about the storage and shipment of blood plasma proved that blood could be stored for transfusions. During World War II, at the military’s request, Drew helped the Red Cross initiate a national blood program that collected 13.3 million pints of blood for use by the armed forces.

Donors of all blood types and ethnic backgrounds are encouraged to give to help ensure blood and platelet donations reflect the diversity of the patients who rely on them. Certain blood types are unique to specific racial and ethnic groups. Red blood cells carry markers called antigens on their surface that determine one’s blood type. There are more than 600 known antigens, and some are unique to specific racial and ethnic groups. Blood must be matched very closely for patients with rare blood types or those who need repeated transfusions. Patients are less likely to have complications from blood donated by someone of a similar ethnicity.

  • Every day, volunteer blood and platelet donors across the country are needed to help save lives. The Red Cross must collect more than 13,000 blood and platelet donations every day for patients at about 2,600 hospitals and transfusion centers nationwide. Eligible donors are urged to make an appointment to give now by using the Blood Donor App, visiting redcrossblood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).