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Chicagoans Confront World War II Racism and the American Red Cross
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the blood will be processed separately so that those receiving transfusions may be given plasma from the blood of their own race.

The Chicago-based biracial Committee of Racial Equality (CORE) combated segregation in all forms, including the racial segregation of donated blood during World War II. After initially refusing to accept blood donations from African Americans, the American Red Cross reversed its position but bowed to racial prejudices by keeping donated blood segregated by race. This pamphlet by CORE includes a chronology of the controversy over blood donations, documents from the Red Cross, scientific organizations, and the press, a summary of CORE’s actions in Chicago, and suggestions for group and individual action.

COMMITTEE OF RACIAL EQUALITY. Typed Document, The American Red Cross and Negro Blood, Background for Action Pamphlet No. 1, ca. 1943, Chicago. 12 p., 5⅝ x 8½ in. Includes inserted printed flyer, “The Red Cross and Its Jim Crow Policy,” distributed by CORE in Chicago in 1943.

Inventory #23678       ON HOLD


CORE has one purpose—to eliminate racial discrimination. This pamphlet is the documented story of the research and actions the Schools and Hospitals Unit of CORE has undertaken toward eliminating racial discrimination in the blood donor service of the American Red Cross.” (p1)

American Red Cross Policy Statement, January 1942

In deference to the wishes of those for whom the plasma is being provided, the blood will be processed separately so that those receiving transfusions may be given plasma from the blood of their own race.” (p3)

Journal of American Medical Association, May 1942

There is therefore, no factual basis for the discrimination against the use of Negro blood or plasma for injection into white people. Since syphilitic blood is eliminated from use for this purpose by thorough serologic testing, the rate of syphilis in Negroes is of no concern in this connection. The transfusion of Negro blood into white persons and that of white persons into Negroes has been repeatedly performed in civil practice without any evidence of harm or aversion on the part of recipients.” (p4)

Science Editor of the New York Times, June 1943

We ask ourselves in vain why there should be this prejudice against Negro blood and why no one shudders at the origin of many a substance that is now injected to save human life. Who objects to the injection of serums obtained from the blood of horses, rabbits, and other animals in cases of diphtheria, pneumonia, and other diseases?... Sometimes we wonder whether this is really an age of science.” (p6)

“Negro Blood” in PM (New York newspaper), January 29, 1942

The Red Cross has retreated, under strong pressure, from its first ‘winter line’ of complete refusal to accept blood from Negro volunteer donors. It has established, and will no doubt try its best to hold, a new fortified position—fortified by all the race prejudice of the country.... no matter who formulated or approved it, the new policy outrages science, fosters superstition, and bows to the race mythology we so fervently condemn across the seas. It is a kick in the face for the Negro people, and made-to-order propaganda for the enemy agents who are trying to persuade Negro Americans they have no stake in this war.” (p7)

“Blood’s Blood” in PM, May 20, 1942

The Red Cross is a great agency for good. It should be big enough to admit its blunders when they occur, and to correct them. It should be big enough to admit that its present policy of segregating the blood of Negro donors in its plasma banks is a bad mistake. That policy should be repudiated in the interests of science, humanity, and national morale.” (p7a)

John E. Rankin, Speech in U.S. House of Representatives, May 28, 1942

one of the most vicious movements that has yet been instituted by the crackpots, the Communists, and parlor pinks of this country is that of trying to browbeat the American Red Cross into taking the labels off the blood bank they are building up for our wounded boys in the service so that it will not show whether it is Negro blood or white blood. That seems to be one of the schemes of these fellow travelers to try to mongrelize this nation. They are not so much interested in its effect upon our wounded boys as they are in carrying out their Communist program.” (p8)

GENERAL SUGGESTIONS FOR ACTION / A. GROUP ACTION / 1. Investigate your local Red Cross Blood Donor Center to establish evidence that they segregate the blood of Negroes.... 5. Urge local religious, labor and cultural organizations to go on record in protest against this Red Cross policy....” (p11)

B. INDIVIDUAL ACTION / 1. When your friends give blood to the Red Cross, ask them to protest against the segregation policy....

Historical Background

In March 1942, a group of fifty black and white men and women founded the Committee of Racial Equality, soon renamed the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Although not a founder, African American civil rights leader Bayard Rustin strongly supported CORE. It opposed segregation in all forms, chiefly through nonviolent civil disobedience. In the 1960s, CORE organized chapters on a model similar to that of trade unions, and supported a series of Freedom Rides through the South to end segregation in interstate transportation, especially on buses, and to encourage the registration of African American voters.

Civil War nurse Clara Barton and her colleagues founded the American Red Cross in 1881 to provide humanitarian aid. It received its first congressional charter in 1900. Involvement in World War I fundamentally transformed the American Red Cross. In 1914, the Red Cross had fewer than 17,000 members and 25 paid staff. Four years later, it had nearly 20.4 million members, 12,300 paid staff, and more than 8 million volunteer workers. In 1918, the Red Cross shipped 101,000 tons of relief supplies overseas.

During World War II, 6.7 million volunteers donated more than 13 million pints of blood to the Red Cross at thirty-five fixed donor centers and sixty-three mobile units that visited more than two thousand Red Cross chapters and branches, hundreds of factories, and 250 military installations.

After initially rejecting blood from African American donors in August 1941, the American Red Cross reversed its policy in January 1942 but insisted that it would process African American blood separately. The editors of the Journal of the American Medical Association and many others spoke out against the Red Cross policy of segregating blood. The American Red Cross insisted it was following instructions from the Army and Navy. In the summer of 1943, the American Red Cross wrote to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that “you are familiar with the reasons for the policy which has been established. Frankly, there appears to be no present prospect of changing the policy.” (p2)

This pamphlet and call for action was part of a broader opposition by African Americans, joined by labor unions, religious groups, local interracial committees, scientific organizations, and even the New Jersey state legislature, to the policy of blood segregation. The most widespread form of protest, not directly counseled by this pamphlet, was the refusal of African Americans to donate blood or money to the Red Cross. While African Americans constituted roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population, they made up less than 1 percent of all blood donors.

The segregation of blood by race continued throughout the war, and not until 1950 did the Red Cross stop requiring such segregation. Blood segregation continued in Arkansas and Louisiana into the late 1960s and early 1970s.


Covers somewhat delicate; and with several tears closed with tape (Fair to Good). Contents Very Good.

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