Dr. J.R.A. CrosslandPosted: February 28, 2014
In August 1922, Dr. J.R.A. Crossland became the first African American appointed as a special expert for the Veterans Bureau in August 1922.
John Russell Asbra Crossland was born in Bennettsville, South Carolina, during the last year of the Civil War to former slaves. Much of his early history is unknown, but he graduated from Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, and later, received his medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1894, at roughly 30 years of age, he was appointed as assistant city physician in St. Joseph, Missouri, and became very active in politics. In December 1901 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him as Minister Resident and Consul-General to Liberia. He left that position after 18 months and returned to private practice and politics where he played a prominent role in Missouri politics and served as alternate delegate at political national conventions in 1908 and 1916. His only son, J.R.A. Crossland, Jr., died in France while serving in World War I.
Dr. Crossland was appointed as Special Expert at the Veterans Bureau in 1921 to oversee the interests of African American veterans who served in World War I. He traveled the country to ensure that African American veterans got their benefits, were rehabilitated, and treated fairly. A majority of job training programs for African Americans were concentrated at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama and Dr. Crossland made frequent visits.
One of his success stories was highlighted in the 1922 Veterans Bureau annual report which reported that an African American, “who before the war relied entirely upon his muscles to compete for a living in the common market, on being rehabilitated as a shoe repairman was advised that a position awaited him. He proudly replied to the effect that the Government’s work was finished and that he was paying for his own business establishment from his Government training allowance savings and employing others to work for him.”
Dr. Crossland tried unsuccessfully to win the appointment as Medical Director at the Veterans Bureau’s Tuskegee hospital and left the Veterans Bureau shortly afterwards around 1924. Very little is known of his life after the Veterans Bureau. He died on September 12, 1950 and is buried in St. Joseph, Missouri.
From the Historian, Veterans Health Administration U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Photo credit: August 4, 1917, The Kansas City Sun, Library of Congress.