Celebrating Contributions of African Americans to the American Red Cross

Black History Month has special meaning for Red Crossers. In fact, the Red Cross was instrumental in the beginning of Black History Month during the month of February.

A little background…

African American antislavery author and activist Frederick Douglass, like so many others born into slavery, grew up without knowledge of his actual birthday. Douglass adopted the birth date of February 14, 1817. In 1926, when Dr. Carter Woodson designated a special period of time to celebrate the heritage and accomplishments of African Americans, he chose February to honor the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. February was designated Black History Month in 1976.

Frederick Douglass, an acquaintance of Clara Barton, lent his support in 1882 to the Red Cross “Appeal to the American People” to raise money to assist victims of the Mississippi River floods.

Throughout our Red Cross history, African Americans have contributed significantly to the success of the organization. Each time we celebrate Black History month, we are also paying tribute to Dr. Charles Drew, Dr. Charles Orr and others who have been involved with the Red Cross.

Drew was the first medical director of the first American Red Cross blood bank and was instrumental in developing blood plasma processing and transfusion therapy, laying the foundation for modern day blood banking. The Charles Drew Institute, named in his honor, is the centerpiece of the Red Cross biomedical training system. Dr. Charles Orr established the Junior Red Cross and organized blood drives for African Americans as well as worked for five decades to ensure the equality of minorities within the Red Cross.

Additionally, Gail McGovern kicked-off a national Diversity & Respect Initiative a couple of months ago. According to Gail, “Diversity is not just the “right” thing to do—it is a business imperative in our rapidly changing national and interconnected world.” In additional to promoting Blood Drives in our African American communities during the month of February, the Diversity Value and Respect Initiative is focusing on workforce education, training and engagement programs. You all received a Diversity Pin. Where it with pride and commit to making a diversity difference.


For more information on the story of the contributions made by African Americans to the Red Cross, please visit this website for an exhibit entitled: “The Continuous Commitment: African Americans in the American Red: www.redcross.org/museum/exhibits/aaexhibit.asp



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