Blood Bank Segregation

April 19, 2011 in 1950s-1960s, Primary source, Social history

                Throughout history blood has captivated us because we perceived it as having symbolic and in some cases even a supernatural quality. It would seem logical that with the advancements made in science the misapprehensions commonly associated with blood would be dispelled. Unfortunately, there was a period in our own history when the knowledge provided by science wasn’t enough to dispel certain apprehensions toward blood. Specifically, during the first half of the twenty-first century when blood was believed to carry with it qualities that made it race specific. The notion of blood as being race oriented would become an increasing source of tension between blood donor programs and the black community. Even, when blood was scientifically proven to have no connection to race there were still Red Cross facilities practicing segregation in their donor processes (1).

 Around the same time the segregation of blood in Red Cross facilities was being contested the civil rights movement was emerging nationally. The fight to prevent discrimination in blood processing facilities would be overshadowed by the greater concerns of segregation in more pronounced institutions related to education and politics. But regardless of how seemingly inconsequential the discrimination in blood processing was when compared to more important concerns, it still provided a place where discrimination could exist. The progressive actions taken to prevent discrimination and segregation in blood processing would parallel the much larger civil rights movement that dominated the second half of the twenty-first century.

                In the south were racism remained deeply rooted in society many of their Red Cross facilities would continue to discriminate against the black community. An article in the New York Times on September 23, 1951 ran an article entitled “Blood Bank Bias Scorned”, it reported Birmingham Alabama being one such area in the south where discrimination and segregation in blood processing persisted. According to the article, one method used by the facilities to segregate and thereby discriminate against the black community was by designating certain days when blacks could donate. Members of the N.A.A.C.P. were protesting against the blatantly unnecessary methods used by the Birmingham facilities at the time and it was because of their protesting attention was even drawn to the segregation in blood processing facilities in the south. The protesting done by the N.A.A.C.P. in Birmingham was done in an effort to fulfill the primary goal of the civil rights movement, that being the elimination of all racial discrimination in both public and private institutions (2).

               So why did the Birmingham facilities in the south even after the Red Cross had openly stated that race had no connection to blood continue their discriminatory practices? In the article, the N.A.A.C.P. asked the head of the blood bank the very same question, he responded by saying the bank was only acting in accordance with the segregation laws imposed by the state (2).  Therefore, it would seem the person donating the blood was being discriminated against and not the blood. But the head of the Birmingham blood bank also said the segregation of blood allows the patient the opportunity to choose which blood they would want to use. So, would it be reasonable to say the misapprehensions associated with blood were still lingering in the minds of some white southerners? Did many still consider blood to define a race, and that by being given blood from a different race it would somehow alter their own being. Truly, it is unfortunate we have a point in our own history when life saving substance such as blood was segregated and in some cases rejected on the sole basis of which race it was drawn from. 

Works Cited

(1)”Red Cross to Omit Race Tag on Blood.” New York Times 20 Nov. 1950: Pg.7

(2)”Blood Bank Bias Scorned.” New York Times 23 Sep. 1951: Pg.13

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