Frederick Douglass (1818-95) was a prominent American abolitionist, author and orator. Born a slave, Douglass escaped at age 20 and went on to become a world-renowned anti-slavery activist. His three autobiographies are considered important works of the slave narrative tradition as well as classics of American autobiography. Douglass’ work as a reformer ranged from his abolitionist activities in the early 1840s to his attacks on Jim Crow and lynching in the 1890s.
For 16 years he edited an influential black newspaper and achieved international fame as an inspiring and persuasive speaker and writer. In thousands of speeches and editorials, he levied a powerful indictment against slavery and racism, provided an indomitable voice of hope for his people, embraced antislavery politics and preached his own brand of American ideals.
An abolitionist, writer and orator, Frederick Douglass was the most important black American leader of the nineteenth century. Born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, he was the son of a slave woman and, probably, her white master. Upon his escape from slavery at age twenty, he adopted the name of the hero of Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake.
In 1968, Shirley Chisholm ran for Congress from Brooklyn, winning that seat while running against James Farmer, a veteran of the 1960s Freedom Rides in the south. She thus became the first black woman elected to Congress. She hired only women for her staff.
She was known for taking positions against the Vietnam war. for minority and women's issues, and for challenging the Congressional seniority system.
In 1971, Chisholm was a founding member of the National Women's Political Caucus.
When Chisholm ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1972, she knew that she could not win the nomination, but she nevertheless wanted to raise issues she felt were important.
She was the first black person and the first black woman to run for president on a major party ticket, and the first woman to win delegates for a presidential nomination by a major party.
Chisholm served in Congress for seven terms, until 1982. In 1984, she helped form the National Political Congress of Black Women (NPCBW). She taught, as the Purington Professor at Mount Holyoke College, and spoke widely.
She moved to Florida in 1991. She briefly served as ambassador to Jamaica during the Clinton administration.
In 2004, she said about herself, "I want history to remember me not just as the first black woman to be elected to Congress, not as the first black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself."
Shirley Chisholm died in Florida in 2005 after a series of strokes.
Drew grew up in Washington, D.C. as the oldest son of a carpet layer. In his youth, Drew showed great athletic talent. He won several medals for swimming in his elementary years, and later branched out to football, basketball and other sports. After graduating from Dunbar High School in 1922, Drew went to Amherst College on a sports scholarship. There, he distinguished himself on the track and football teams.
Drew completed his bachelor's degree at Amherst in 1926, but didn't have enough money to pursue his dream of attending medical school. He worked as a biology instructor and a coach for Morgan College, now Morgan State University, in Baltimore for two years. In 1928, he applied to medical schools and enrolled at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
At McGill University, Drew quickly proved to be a top student. He won a prize in neuroanatomy and was a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha, a medical honor society. Graduating in 1933, Drew was second in his class and earned both Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degrees. He did his internship and residency at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Montreal General Hospital. During this time, Drew studied with Dr. John Beattie, and they examined problems and issues regarding blood transfusions.
After his father's death, Drew returned to the United States. He became an instructor at Howard University's medical school in 1935. The following year, he did a surgery residence at Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C., in addition to his work at the university.
Father of Blood Banks
In 1938, Drew received a Rockefeller Fellowship to study at Columbia University and train at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. There, he continued his exploration of blood-related matters with John Scudder. Drew developed a method for processing and preserving blood plasma, or blood without cells. Plasma lasts much longer than whole blood, making it possible to be stored or "banked" for longer periods of time. He discovered that the plasma could be dried and then reconstituted when needed. His research served as the basis of his doctorate thesis, "Banked Blood," and he received his doctorate degree in 1940. Drew became the first African- American to earn this degree from Columbia.
As World War II raged in Europe, Drew was asked to head up a special medical effort known as "Blood for Britain." He organized the collection and processing of blood plasma from several New York hospitals, and the shipments of these life-saving materials overseas to treat causalities in the war. According to one report, Drew helped collect roughly 14,500 pints of plasma.
In 1941, Drew spearheaded another blood bank effort, this time for the American Red Cross. He worked on developing a blood bank to be used for U.S. military personnel. But not long into his tenure there, Drew became frustrated with the military's request for segregating the blood donated by African Americans. At first, the military did not want to use blood from African Americans, but they later said it could only be used for African-American soldiers. Drew was outraged by this racist policy, and resigned his post after only a few months.
Death and Legacy
After creating two of the first blood banks, Drew returned to Howard University in 1941. He served as a professor there, heading up the university's department of surgery. He also became the chief surgeon at Freedmen's Hospital. Later that year, he became the first African-American examiner for the American Board of Surgery.
In 1944, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People honored Drew with its 1943 Spingarn Medal for "the highest and noblest achievement" by an African-American "during the preceding year or years." The award was given in recognition of Drew's blood plasma collection and distribution efforts.
For the final years of his life, Drew remained an active and highly regarded medical professional. He continued to serve as the chief surgeon at Freedmen's Hospital and a professor at Howard University. On April 1, 1950, Drew and three other physicians attended a medical conference at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Drew was behind the wheel when his vehicle crashed near Burlington, North Carolina. His passengers survived, but Drew succumbed to his injuries. He left behind his wife, Minnie, and their four children.
Drew was only 45 years old at the time of his death, and it is remarkable how much he was able to accomplish in such a limited amount of time. As the Reverend Jerry Moore said at Drew's funeral, Drew had "a life which crowds into a handful of years' significance, so great, men will never be able to forget it."
Since his passing, Drew has received countless posthumous honors. He was featured in the United States Postal Service's Great Americans stamp series in 1981, and his name appears on educational institutions across the country.
"Here is a story about Frederick Douglass, an early abolitionist leader who died in 1895, even though President Donald Trump, in his comments on Martin Luther King Day this year, seemed to think Douglas was 'still doing good work'." – Pete Matthews
Dr. Charles Drew
Dr. Charles Drew was an African-American surgeon who pioneered methods of storing blood plasma for transfusion and organized the first large-scale blood bank in the U.S.
Charles Richard Drew was born on June 3, 1904, in Washington, D.C. He was an African- American physician who developed ways to process and store blood plasma in "blood banks." He directed the blood plasma programs of the United States and Great Britain in World War II, but resigned after a ruling that the blood of African-Americans would be segregated. He died on April 1, 1950.
A pioneering African-American medical researcher, Dr. Charles R. Drew made some groundbreaking discoveries in the storage and processing of blood for transfusions. He also managed two of the largest blood banks during World War II.
Did you know that Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman elected to Congress and the first black woman to run for President of a major political party and the first woman to win delegates in a major political party?
Here is her story:
Shirley Chisholm was born in New York but spent seven of her early years growing up in Barbados with her grandmother.
She returned to New York and her parents in time to study at Brooklyn College. She met Eleanor Roosevelt when she was 14, and took to heart Mrs. Roosevelt's advice: "don't let anybody stand in your way."
Chisholm worked as a nursery school teacher and director of a nursery school and child care center after graduation from college, then worked for the city as an educational consultant. She also became involved in grassroots community organizing and the Democratic party. She helped to form the Unity Democratic Club, in 1960. Her community base helped make possible a win when she ran for the New York State Assembly in 1964.
Douglass immortalized his years as a slave in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845). This and two subsequent autobiographies, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881), mark his greatest contributions to American culture.
Written as antislavery propaganda and personal revelation, they are regarded as the finest examples of the slave narrative tradition and as classics of American autobiography.
Did You Know?
After his autobiography was published, Douglass went on a two-year speaking tour of Great Britain and Ireland in order to avoid recapture by his former owner, whose name and location Douglass had mentioned in the narrative.
Douglass’s life as a reformer ranged from his abolitionist activities in the early 1840s to his attacks on Jim Crow and lynching in the 1890s. For sixteen years he edited an influential black newspaper and achieved international fame as an orator and writer of great persuasive power.
In thousands of speeches and editorials he levied an irresistible indictment against slavery and racism, provided an indomitable voice of hope for his people, embraced antislavery politics, and preached his own brand of American ideals.
In the 1850s he broke with the strictly moralist brand of abolitionism led by William Lloyd Garrison; he supported the early women’s rights movement; and he gave direct assistance to John Brown’s conspiracy that led to the raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859.
Rhetorically, Douglass was a master of irony, as illustrated by his famous Fourth of July speech in 1852: “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn,” he declared. Then he accused his unsuspecting audience in Rochester, New York, of mockery for inviting him to speak and quoted Psalm 137, where the children of Israel are forced to sit down “by the rivers of Babylon,” there to “sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.”
For the ways that race have caused the deepest contradictions in American history, few better sources of insight exist than Douglass’s speeches. Moreover, for understanding prejudice, there are few better starting points than his timeless definition of racism as a “diseased imagination.”
Douglass welcomed the Civil War in 1861 as a moral crusade against slavery. During the war he labored as a propagandist of the Union cause and emancipation, a recruiter of black troops, and (on two occasions) an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln. He viewed the Union victory as an apocalyptic rebirth of America as a nation rooted in a rewritten Constitution and the ideal of racial equality.
Some of his hopes were dashed during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, but he continued to travel widely and lecture on racial issues, national politics, and women’s rights.
In the 1870s Douglass moved to Washington, D.C., where he edited a newspaper and became president of the ill-fated Freedman’s Bank. As a stalwart Republican, Douglass was appointed marshal (1877-1881) and recorder of deeds (1881-1886) for the District of Columbia, and chargé d’affaires for Santo Domingo and minister to Haiti (1889-1891).
Brilliant, heroic, and complex, Douglass became a symbol of his age and a unique voice for humanism and social justice. His life and thought will always speak profoundly to the meaning of being black in America, as well as the human calling to resist oppression.
Douglass died in 1895 after years of trying to preserve a black abolitionist’s meaning and memory of the great events he had witnessed and helped to shape.
The Reader’s Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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