Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Louisville, Kentucky Red Cross and Other Embarrassments

The Red Cross has always been ambivalent about serving people of color, at least that is true historically of African-American communities throughout the 20th century, and with Katrina, into the 21st. The Red Cross was founded in Europe and Clara Barton brought the movement to the United States.
It seems every flood or hurricane brings stories not only of capacity issues but of discriminatory behavior that only serves to increase the suffering of survivors. In the Great Flood of 1927 African-American survivors were expected to sign on to work for planters if they were to receive relief. They were held captive on levee camps with armed guards to prevent them from escaping North. The Red Cross did less for them than enemy combatants during WW I.

The failures of Katrina
were more widespread.

Yesterday I received this report, from Louisville, KY, one of the areas Gulf Coast residents had been evacuated to in anticipation of Hurricane Gustav. Evacuees waiting for information about their flights home found themselves listed not by flight, family group or destination, but by animal groups -- cows, coyotes, and of course, the ever popular monkey group.

Evacuees rightly felt this was demeaning and racist treatment. Even more disturbing, after the painful trauma many Katrina survivors suffered when they were separated from their children during the flood or in transport out of the region, the Louisville Red Cross, in arranging flights home, separated children from their families once again!

The American Red Cross is a non-profit but a special one. It received its charter from Congress in 1905 and functions to meet local and national disasters. Since 2005 it has had a couple failures of management, raised and misused cash donations, and, with FEMA, squirreled away donations made to benefit Katrina survivors. It seems problems continue, even as the 2008 hurricane season is requiring evacuation after evacuation.

If you are a Red Cross volunteer, give blood, have taken their CPR or First Aid course, or not, it's time to tell your local chapter that these behaviors must stop. That you are aware of a history that demeans evacuees and donors. Ask your local chapter what they are going to do about this national problem.

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