This African-American history month, we are honoring black men and women who played a pivotal role in helping the American Red Cross become the organization that it is today. This week, we’d like to highlight Frederick Douglass.
Frederick Douglass is widely known for his autobiographies and powerful speeches describing his life as a slave, but the abolitionist leader also shares a connection to the American Red Cross, tracing back to before the organization’s founding.
Douglass, a prominent abolitionist, orator and author, first met American Red Cross founder Clara Barton shortly after the end of the Civil War. During the war, Barton risked her life to bring supplies and support to soldiers, including to the all-black Massachusetts 54th Regiment, which was recruited by Frederick Douglass. The story of 54th Regiment was well documented and formed the basis for the 1991 film “Glory.”
Douglass and Barton developed a friendship, and Barton discussed establishing a Red Cross Association in the United States with him. The famed abolitionist offered advice and support to Barton in her efforts to gain American acceptance as a member nation of the global Red Cross network. Douglass’ name is on an appeal for funds after the 1882 Mississippi flood. He also, in his capacity as Register of Deeds for the District of Columbia, signed the original Articles of Incorporation for the American Red Cross when they were submitted to the municipal authorities. The articles legally documented the creation of the American Red Cross.