American Red Cross untold story of the American Red Cross


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The Great 1927 Flood was a huge natural disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi, so of course the American Red Cross swooped in to help. Because of the location of the flood, it disproportionately affected African-Americans, but the people who should have been helping them decided to let their racist flag fly instead. The Red Cross took the Southern racial discrimination of Jim Crow and multiplied it.

According to Lake Forest College, blacks “endured systematic abuse by the Red Cross.” People who had been displaced were housed in refugee camps run by the organization, but African-Americans were separated into “the dirtiest and the most dangerous” areas. They were not allowed to come and go freely, reports National Geographic, and if they tried guards threatened to shoot them. The only time the men were allowed to go anywhere was to work on building the levees back up, and they had no choice on that. If they didn’t do this backbreaking work for free, their families would no longer get rations.

Not that the rations were that great anyway. The Red Cross gave food to white refugees first and whatever was left was given, in much smaller portions, to the African-Americans. When special food came in, like canned peaches, blacks weren’t given any at all, because the Red Cross thought it would “spoil them” and “teach them a lot of expensive habits.” One historian said the camps set up theoretically to help these people were nothing more than slave camps.

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