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Saturday, September 14, 2019

“City Hospital Charged With Prejudice Against Negro Blood Donors”

By Richard White
Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved by the author

This was the headline of the Binghamton Press’s May 15, 1947 report on the previous night’s regular meeting of the Hospital’s Board of Managers whose agenda included a possibly contentious discussion item.

A local pastor had written them two accusatory letters concerning their Jim Crow treatment of black residents. One letter accused the Hospital administration of not accepting blood donations from Negroes for its blood bank while the other letter contended that the Hospital’s policy was keeping Negro patients out of semi-private rooms. The Press’s article reported that the pastor’s “criticism resulted in a controversial discussion.”

The Rev. John Wesley Taylor had been the pastor of the city’s Beautiful Plain Baptist Church since the 1920s, and he participated in civil rights activism. For example, when pianist Hazel Scott was banned from a performance in 1945 at Constitution Hall in Washington, he and his congregation composed a protest letter to their Congressman. On May 16, the Binghamton Sun published their entire four-part resolution which concludes with their stated opposition to “the toleration and continuance of such practices…of such indignities…to peoples of any race….” At this early stage in the modern-day Civil Rights Movement, this was the chosen approach to engage prejudice.

Two years later another injustice prompted Rev. Taylor to press a formidable institution to formulate new policies based on equality.

The Press’s thorough reportage provides at least a partial picture of the racial climate in a small Northern city shortly after the Second World War. Except for A. E. Gold who “asserted that it is the duty of the Board to fight discrimination in the hospital administration,” the rest of the assemblage stated divergent views. One manager declared that hospital service, not “civil liberties,” was a legitimate topic for their agenda, and that “we aren’t here to teach anti-discrimination.” The director of the hospital’s blood bank spoke directly to the rejection of Negro blood—“white people won’t take it…if we took Negro blood, it would just go down the drain.” The Director then said that his lab does give Negro patients transfusions if they “will accept white blood.” The Hospital’s Superintendent summed up the Board’s position when he argued that “as far as the doctors are concerned, there would be no objection to having Negro blood in the Bank, but public opinion wouldn’t allow it.” Concerning the issue of a black patient in a semi-private room shared with a white patient, the Superintendent said that there was no policy against it. But if the white patient objects, “we adjust it.” So, in Binghamton in 1947, hospital policies arose from prejudiced public opinion. In fact, due to this attitude, the Red Cross segregated blood officially until 1950.

Across the nation in 1947, Jim Crow attitudes were being widely confronted. For example, President Truman’s Commission on Civil Rights issued its recommendations entitled, “To Secure These Rights.” In New York State, the legislature enacted legislation to establish an anti-bias council in every county. In Binghamton, James J. Washington campaigned for election to the City Council. So, how long did public opinion on Negro blood impact City Hospital? When would the winds of change alter a part of the prejudiced racial landscape in a small Northern city?

Research of the city’s two daily newspapers does not provide a definitive answer in that through June, there are no related articles, letters, or editorials. Mention of Rev. Taylor was confined to his work in the pulpit. Two civil rights organizations—the 15-year-old "Interracial Association" and the one-week-old "Anti-bias Council" did not comment on the dispute. However, in Binghamton in 1947, Jim Crow met an intractable, unaccommodating, pastor whose activism mirrored civil rights developments in the United States at that time.

About the author: Richard White's articles have appeared in Civil War HistoryThe Journal of Negro History, and other publications.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The American Legion's Centennial

By Robert Yott
Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved by the author.

This year, 2019, the American Legion is celebrating its Centennial. It was established just thirty years after another veteran organization, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), had passed its peak of power and influence; its membership diminishing. But the GAR had ensured its legacy would be secure and forever written in the annals of this country’s history. Its leaders and members, which included five US presidents, had set the standards to which future veteran organizations would aspire to and in many cases, surpass.

Initially, the Grand Army of the Republic was a political lobbying group born under the guise as being a benevolent veteran organization. Its existence was born out of necessity and for nearly a half a century its influence would affect political, economic and social policies; effects which are still felt today. To celebrate the life of the American Legion and to fully appreciate their achievements, we must first look at the past.

By November 1865, six months after the Civil War had ended, 800,000 soldiers would be welcomed home to cheering crowds. Jobs became scarce however, as the market could not absorb such a large influx of recently unemployed, abled-body veterans. While these men were off fighting, immigrants and stay-at-homes had taken their place in the workforce. Also, nearly a half-million men returned home with debilitating wounded or were discharged for ailments and disease. Their meager pensions hardly sufficed to care for their families, let alone themselves. Many veterans flocked to the cities seeking relief; a large portion resorting to begging or seeking shelter in county poor houses.

In Washington, politicians were too embroiled in a bitter battle over Reconstruction to give notice to the veterans’ needs. With no adequate hospital care or provisions provided, veterans became discouraged and various veteran organizations began to form across the country to raise awareness of their plight.

Governor Richard Oglesby and political upstart General John A. Logan, both of Illinois and both Radical Republicans, recognized the potential of these organizations and realized that, if these veterans were brought together under one banner and convinced to accept their political agenda, then a virtual voting bloc could be the result. Intending to remain anonymous and to keep their intentions under wraps, the two employed Dr. Benjamin Stephenson and Chaplain William J. Rutledge, also of Illinois, to form a new veteran organization. On April 6, 1866, the first post of the Grand Army of the Republic was established in Decatur, Illinois.