Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Celebrating African American History Month: Red Cross Legend Charles Drew and Jerome Holland

In February we celebrate African American History Month as a nation. We close up this great month by honoring two great contributors to the Red Cross movement - Dr. Charles Drew and Jerome Holland!

African American History Month: Celebrating the Life of Dr. Charles Drew
By Red Cross volunteer Tonya Solis-Mosby

His name is synonymous with “blood,” but did you know that he also had a relationship with the American Red Cross?

According to information obtained from both Charles Drew University and the American Red Cross, Dr. Charles Drew, an African-American medical pioneer mostly known for his research work with blood and blood plasma, was named, in early 1940, the medical director of an operation that was to provide live-saving blood products to the British Isles should there be an attack on the area.

This project, the Plasma for Britain Project, which was financially supported by the American Red Cross, brought together eight New York City hospitals for blood collections. As director of this project, Dr. Drew supervised the successful collection of more than 14,000 pints of plasma.

When Hitler’s anticipated attack didn’t materialize, the Plasma for Britain Project was ended, and Dr. Drew, in February 1941, became the medical supervisor for a project similar to the Britain project, but on a smaller scale, that was established by the Red Cross.

From this project, the American Red Cross Blood Donor Service was born during World War II. Dr. Drew’s work had laid the foundation for modern blood banking.

In fact, blood banking was the focus of his doctoral thesis, “Banked Blood,” which was based on an extensive study of blood preservation techniques.

Although he only spent seven months working on the two blood projects, Dr. Drew made a significant contribution to what became a highly successful World War II blood procurement effort.

In April 1941, he returned to Howard University where he gained even more distinction through his work training young surgeons. He was appointed to several scientific committees and received honorary degrees from both Virginia State and Amherst colleges. He was one of the first African-Americans to be selected to serve as a member of the American Board of Surgery. In 1944, he received a prestigious award of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for his outstanding contribution to human welfare.

Sadly, Dr. Drew was killed in an automobile accident on April 1, 1950, at the age of 45. The one-car accident occurred as he and three colleagues were en route to the annual meeting of the John A. Andrews Association of Tuskegee, Ala.

Celebrating African American History Month: Jerome Holland

Written by volunteer Catherine Carlton

Among the many outstanding volunteers who have led the American Red Cross, few were as accomplished as Jerome H. Holland ( We celebrate Jerome and his service as a way to highlight African American History Month. Jerome was the first African American to serve as chairman of the Red Cross Board of Directors when he was elected into the position in 1979.

Like many, Jerome's relationship with the Red Cross drew from his personal volunteering experience; for Jerome, this was helping victims of one of the largest floods while he was studying at Cornell.

His success leading the 50-member Red Cross board (he was appointed by President Jimmy Carter) likely came from his experiences from the worlds of college athletics, academia, corporate finance and international diplomacy.

Jerome was born in 1916 in New York. He was one of 13 children, the only to attend college. He faced challenges with regards to his race when it came to professional sports and business. He went on to get his master's and doctorate degrees as part of his 30-year career as an educator and administrator. His academic works were published often.

Prior to joining the Red Cross board, Jerome spent time as the U.S. ambassador to Sweeden and on the boards of many major U.S. corporations including AT&T, Chrysler, General Foods, Federated Department Stores, Manufacturers Trust and Union Carbide. In 1972 he became the first African American to serve on the board of the New York Stock Exchange, which had decided to reform its governance and diversify its 20-member board. In the board room, Jerome was known for his forceful, direct manner and his goal-oriented approach.

These same attributes marked Jerome's tenure at the American Red Cross, during which he urged the organization to tackle its challenges head-on, feeling it was the only way to inspire public confidence.

"...It is conceivable that people may not have the funds available to donate due to high living costs, inflation and taxes. This is a serious matter, as the Red Cross must compete for funds with churches, educational institutions, hospitals, etc. This why it is so important for all of us to become 100% committed to our funding program for the future - The Centennial Roll Call," he said.

With his warm and dignified personality, Jerome was especially effective in building close ties with other Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. As a direct result of his work with Red Cross societies around the world, Jerome convinced the Board of Governors to create a committee on international services.
The Red Cross’ international work is one of the legacies Jerome left when he died of cancer in 1985, at the age of 69. In additional to his leadership, the Jerome H. Holland Laboratory for the Biomedical Sciences is in honor of the American Red Cross chairman who took the lead in consolidating the growing laboratory operations of American Red Cross Blood Services programs. Today the Holland Laboratory continues his legacy through the American Red Cross Research Blood Program, which collects the blood used in research studies.

Who are some of your favorite figures in African American history? 

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