African American involvement in the American Red Cross goes far back into Red Cross history. After the Civil War, Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, sat around a dinner table with famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass and talked about establishing a Red Cross Association in the United States. Mr. Douglass supported Miss Barton’s efforts and continued to support the work of the Red Cross after it was founded in 1881.
The Red Cross celebrates Black History Month in honor of Douglass and the countless more individuals who have contributed to our organization. We encourage eligible donors of all backgrounds to make an appointment to donate blood this February.
From organizing blood drives to donating blood, African Americans make unique contributions to America’s blood supply. More than 50 percent of people of African descent have type O blood. About 20 percent of African Americans also have type B blood, which is higher than other populations. Several rare blood types are also particular to the African American community.
Post-transfusion complications can decrease when patients receive blood from donors of the same ethnic background. And that is important in cases when a patient needs blood every few weeks to help treat serious diseases like sickle cell.
Take Ishia Gattis, for example. Ishia has sickle cell and therefore needs blood transfusions monthly in order to stay healthy. She even wrote a children’s book about sickle cell after her oldest child kept asking why mommy had to keep going to the hospital.