Jerome Heartwell Holland, diplomat and educator, was the first African American to play football at Cornell University and the first to sit on the board of the New York Stock Exchange, a position he held until 1980.
Among the many outstanding volunteers who have led the American Red Cross, few were as accomplished as Jerome H. Holland, the first African American to serve as chairman of the Red Cross Board of Directors. Holland's journey to the Red Cross, where he presided over its 50-member Board of Governors from his appointment by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 until his death in 1985, traced a course through the worlds of college athletics, academia, corporate finance and international diplomacy.
Jerome Heartwell Holland was born on January 9, 1916, in Auburn, New York, one of 13 children born to Robert and Viola Bagby Holland. As young boy, Holland helped his father, who was a gardener and handyman. By the time he was 8 years old, he realized that excelling in education was the fastest way out of poverty. He was the only one of his siblings to attend college.
Holland entered Cornell University in 1935 and excelled on the school's football field as well as in its classrooms. However, unlike many of his Ivy League peers, the straight-A student still had to earn money, so he worked on campus as a dishwasher and furnace tender.
At Cornell, "Brud" (his life-long nickname) Holland helped lead the football team to many victories and was named an All-American End in 1937 and again in 1938. This remarkable achievement came at a time when the nation was heavily segregated and very few black players were welcome in college athletics. In Holland's case, many southern newspapers refused to run his photograph with the rest of the All-American players for fear of offending their readership.
In 1938, the Associated Press said Holland "...wrecked interference, blocked and tackled, snagged passes and carried the ball." In 1965, Holland was inducted into the National Football Foundation's College Football Hall of Fame.
Notwithstanding these accomplishments, Holland's race dissuaded professional football teams and businesses from even interviewing him following his graduation from college in 1939. He decided to continue his education, earning a masters degree in sociology from Cornell in 1941 while coaching college football teams to earn a living.
After receiving his degree, Holland worked as director of personnel for the Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Company of Pennsylvania. From his managerial experiences at the company, Holland was able to write a scholarly paper in 1950 titled "A Study of Negroes Employed by the Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company During World War II and their Problems in the Post War Period."
That same year, Holland earned his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. Armed with his doctorate, Holland embarked on a 30-year career as an educator and administrator. From 1953 to 1959 he served as president of Delaware State College (now Delaware State University), then left to take the top position at Virginia's Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) from 1960 to 1970. Both schools are among this nation's leading historically black institutions of higher learning.
During his career in academia, Holland researched and published a number of scholarly papers, articles and books focusing on black employment and residency patterns, the desegregation of schools, counseling and guidance of black youth, and blacks in higher education. His final book, Black Opportunity, a sociological and economic study, was published in 1969 in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1970, Holland resigned his post at the Hampton Institute upon his appointment as U.S. ambassador to Sweden. As ambassador, Holland was charged with representing and promoting U.S. political and economic interests, communicating the Nixon administration's foreign policy to the Swedish government, and managing the embassy staff in Stockholm. He served as ambassador until 1972.
After leaving Sweden, Holland served on the boards of directors of many major U.S. corporations, including AT&T, Chrysler, General Foods, Federated Department Stores, Manufacturers Trust and Union Carbide.
In 1972, he became the first African American to serve on the board of the New York Stock Exchange, which had decided to reform its governance and diversify its 20-member board. In the board room, Holland was known for his forceful, direct manner and his goal-oriented approach.
These same attributes marked Holland's tenure at the American Red Cross, which he served as a member of its Board of Governors. Holland urged the organization to tackle its challenges head-on, feeling it was the only way to inspire public confidence.
According to an interview he gave after becoming Red Cross chairman, Holland's first encounter with the organization came in the summer of his freshmen year at Cornell, when Ithaca, N.Y., experienced the worst flood in its history. Holland, along with the rest of the community, helped the flood victims by delivering supplies for the Red Cross, and he came away impressed by the organization's timely response during a time of crisis.
In 1942, a series of letters about a potential job as a club program director overseas were exchanged between American Red Cross national headquarters and Holland, who by then was working for the Sun Shipbuilding Company. The Red Cross was eager to make use of Holland's talent in its network of overseas clubs for black servicemen, and even asked if he could recommend any of his friends for the job.
Decades later, Holland was again approached by the American Red Cross, this time to serve as a member of its Board of Governors. Holland's first term on the board began in 1964 and ended in 1970. During this period, Holland began speaking out about the organization's need to respond to the widespread social movements (riots as well as concerned Americans who wanted to get involved) that were taking place in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Holland's call to action had an effect on the organization. The 1969 annual report states, "...In extending services to the entire community, the Red Cross was able to tap new volunteer resources, adding workers from population groups that had not previously participated. For example, mothers of children in Red Cross school health programs, particularly in inner city schools, were enlisted to serve in school rooms in neighborhoods where they live."
In the mid-1970s, American Red Cross President George Elsey approached Holland while he was ambassador to Sweden and asked him to serve again on the Board of Governors "because everyone will be after him when he comes home." Holland agreed to come back to the Red Cross and was elected to another board term in l977.
In 1978, Holland was named vice chairman of the board and thus was the logical choice for the chairmanship when Frank Stanton stepped down from the post in 1979. On April 1, 1979, President Carter appointed him chairman of the American Red Cross.
When he took office, one of his major challenges facing the organization was raising sufficient disaster relief funds in the midst of a slumping national economy.
With his warm and dignified personality, Holland was especially effective in building close ties with other Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. Holland met with a number of Red Cross societies at home and abroad, including an important trip to China's Red Cross in the 1980s.
As a direct result of his work with other Red Cross societies around the world, and with the conviction that the American Red Cross had a major role to play on the world stage, Holland convinced the Board of Governors to create a committee on international services.
Jerome Holland served as chairman until he died of cancer on January 13, 1985, at the age of 69. He was survived by his wife, the former Laura Mitchell; two sons, Jerome Jr. and Joseph; and two daughters, Pamela and Lucy.
Two years later, on February 23, 1987, an 110,000-square-foot facility for biomedical research and development opened in Rockville, Maryland. The research facility was named the Jerome H. Holland Laboratory for the Biomedical Sciences in honor of the American Red Cross chairman who had taken the lead in consolidating the growing laboratory operations of American Red Cross Blood Services programs. Today the Holland Laboratory continues his legacy through the American Red Cross Research Blood Program, which collects the blood used in research studies.
Compiled from: http://www.redcross.org/museum/history/JHHolland.asp and http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/educator-and-diplomat-jerome-holland.