“Red Cross, Double Cross” – Thomas Guglielmo

The “Red Cross, Double Cross” talk by Thomas Guglielmo, discussed the issue of race when it came to the blood program of the Second World War. The Red Cross, working in tandem with the military, established an absolutely massive blood donor service where citizens could give blood and it could be transported to points of conflict during the war. They established vast campaigns that encouraged Americans that giving blood, like buying war bonds, was their patriotic duty; even making there patriotic reference of being “blood brothers.” However patriotic these efforts seemed there is an untold story about blood donor services of the Red Cross. Due to the Jim Crow ideals of race and “black blood”, African Americans who wanted to give blood were turned away because of policies that stated that African American blood could not be given to white soldiers. At first the Red Cross would not accept African American blood entirely, even though there were segregated units of African American soldiers serving overseas. Eventually, after enough protesting, the Red Cross did allow for African Americans to donate blood but there were two major caveats. Firstly, black blood had to be stored separately from white blood. Secondly, black blood could not be given to white soldiers on the battlefield. The Red Cross and military would not budge on the segregation issue even with African American protesting and cutting donations to the Red Cross. Many people around the country spoke out against the policy of blood segregation including the scientific community that came out saying that “black blood” was basically the same as white blood. The military and Red Cross refused to lift the segregating of blood. The reason given was that they were afraid that white soldier morale would crumble and the military effectively neutered if they tried to make white soldiers take “black blood.” However, in spite of the policy that black blood should not be given to white soldiers there were cases of the “black blood” being used on white soldiers regardless. The military and Red Cross failed to understand the mentality taken by the infantry and the commanding officers on the ground. Some, undoubtedly, made sure that white soldiers would not get “black blood” even to the detriment of the soldier in need. While others knew that sometimes–regardless of whatever possible risks could have been to giving “black blood” to a white soldier were–desperate times called for desperate measures. So regardless of what the policy at the top of the ranks was, it did not always get carried out on the ground. Thousands of soldiers were saved by the blood donations that were provided by the American people after being processed and transported by the Red Cross. But even then, these racist issues caused major problems on the home-front that translated to problems on the battleground. Finally, in 1950, the segregation of blood was stopped and, probably much to the surprise of the military and Red Cross, military morale did not change in response. It’s interesting to see how a cultural idea  like “black blood” was shaping our scientific opinions, when scientific fact was saying almost the complete opposite. It was a great lecture with history and little bit of anthropology thrown in there as well.

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