Monday, February 9, 2015

Black History Month: “He Had Guts” - The Legendary Life of Doctor Jerome H. Holland

by Suzanne Wiley, volunteer contributor 

When I told friends and colleagues I started volunteering for the American Red Cross, I had many people tell me they wanted me to let them know when it was time to donate blood. For many, the Red Cross has become synonymous with blood drives and for good reason. The organization is one of the country’s largest blood collectors, allowing for the distribution of more than eight million safe blood transfusions a year. Further, The Red Cross was a leader in developing testing for infectious diseases spread by blood, as well as continuing to lead in research and development through the Red Cross Jerome H. Holland Laboratory for the Biomedical Sciences.

Unless you have been a recipient of blood products and services, you probably don’t give much thought to the safety of blood given by donors. Thanks to Dr. Jerome H. Holland, the Red Cross’ first African-American Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Red Cross, the organization’s dedication to the health and well-being of victims needing blood services expanded greatly by Dr. Holland’s service, passion and commitment.

Dr. Holland was born into poverty on January 9, 1916 in Auburn, New York. He was one of 13 children. From 1931 to 1935, Jerome played football for Auburn High School. After graduating high school, he was accepted to the prestigious Cornell University, where he was the first African-American to play football for the school. While attending Cornell, he was inspired to volunteer while helping victims of a major flood in the area. For the rest of Dr. Holland’s life, he was dedicated to serving not only his community, but building relationships around the world.

Though he was an accomplished sportsman and academic—named twice All-American while at Cornell and received honors, Jerome did not get the opportunity to interview with career recruiters. Still segregated at the time, a career in professional football was also out. He documents his thoughts on this in his published book, “Black Opportunity.”

Dr. Holland did not let discrimination set him back, however. He continued at Cornell. After receiving his Bachelor of Science in Sociology, Jerome entered the Master of Science in Sociology degree, and earned a Master’s in 1941. He left Cornell to teach Sociology and Physical Education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. From there, Dr. Jerome H. Holland continued for the rest of his life to be an educator, activist, and volunteer.

In 1950, Dr. Holland received a Ph.D in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. Throughout the rest of his life, various colleges and universities gave Dr. Holland over 20 honorary degrees. He also served as President of two Historically Black Colleges and Universities—Hampton Institute and Delaware State College, where he grew the failing Delaware State College enrollment tenfold during his tenure there.

President Richard Nixon offered Dr. Holland the controversial position of U.S. Ambassador to Sweden in 1970. Due to a strained relationship between the United States and Sweden, Dr. Holland knew the appointment would be a challenge. Always willing to meet a challenge head-on, he accepted. At the time, Jerome was only the second African-American Ambassador to have served in a European country.

After asked to serve as the Director of the Board of the United States Stock Exchange, he left the position in 1972. He was the first African-American to hold the position.

In 1979, Dr. Jerome H. Holland was elected and appointed by President Jimmy Carter as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Red Cross. The Board of Directors leads the Board of Governors, which oversees the organization. The volunteer position of Chairman is the highest leading official position in the Red Cross. He served as Chairman, until he passed away in New York on January 13, 1985. During his time as Chairman, he facilitated a positive relationship with the Red Crescent. The Red Cross renamed the research and development lab in honor of Dr. Holland in 1987.

The legendary Jerome H. Holland certainly led an honorary and inspiring life. Besides all the great, major accomplishments listed, Dr. Holland served on nine boards of major U. S. companies—often being the only African-American to do so, researched for the Pew Memorial Trust, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and National Football Foundation Hall of Fame and the first African-American to be awarded the Theodore Roosevelt Award in 1972, as well as serving as the first African-American Chairman of Planned Parenthood in 1968.

After his death, Dr. Jerome H. Holland was posthumously awarded the highest civilian award one can receive—the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985. During his speech, President Ronald Regan described Jerome as “…a leading educator, civil rights activists, author and diplomat…,” leading “a life of service. The memory of which today serves as an inspiration to millions.”

The American Red Cross in Westchester County has put together an informative documentary honoring Dr. Holland’s life. 

You can watch it here:

This story was originally posted on 2/25/14.

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