Today’s post is from the March of Dimes archivist, David Rose.
In the 1940s, when the March of Dimes was known as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and our mission was focused on polio, our work was complicated by the problem of racial segregation. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s changed all that, but the March of Dimes nevertheless faced this problem squarely by hiring an African-American executive named Charles Hudson Bynum.
Charles Bynum (1905-1996) was a high school biology teacher and a civil rights activist. He became the Director of Interracial Activities for the March of Dimes, serving for nearly three decades, from 1944 to 1971. His path-breaking work of outreach to African-Americans throughout the United States helped to ensure that black children and adults received proper medical care in polio epidemics. Mr. Bynum was born in Kinston, North Carolina and had been dean of Texas College in Tyler, Texas and assistant to the president of the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama.
Charles Bynum traveled throughout the nation, but especially through the South, to facilitate the March of Dimes service program of patient care for blacks suffering from polio and to organize fund-raising efforts for rehabilitation and epidemic relief. He made sure that the March of Dimes pledge that polio care would be made available for anyone affected by this disabling disease without regard to race, color, creed, or religion. He also advocated that African-American children with polio should appear in our publicity posters in order to get our message to local communities effectively. Consequently, black children with polio were featured prominently in our national posters each year from 1947 to 1960.
Times were very different then, but the March of Dimes continues to ensure today that everything we do to fight the problem of premature birth is done equally and fairly. We recognize the cultural and ethnic diversities that make our society so wonderfully complex, and we honor those differences, individual and cultural, with programs of outreach and support in places as different as a native American reservation, a rural community on the Great Plains, and neighborhoods in cities of the east coast. From promoting Centering Pregnancy programs to providing NICU Family Support at local hospitals, the March of Dimes continues to honor the lead of a great but overlooked champion of polio care, Charles Bynum. In following his lead, the March of Dimes continues to stand by its commitment as the champion for all babies.
• Photo: Charles Bynum presents March of Dimes award to The Links, 1956; Left to Right: Opera contralto Marian Anderson, Pauline Weeden of the Links, Mr. Bynum, and E. Frederick Morrow