BHM2021: Dr. Charles Drew- American War Hero, Patriot, and Blood Bank founder


"The 'Big Lie' that is perpetrated every Black History Month is that the world-renowned and respected Dr. Charles Drew died as a result of being denied a blood transfusion in a 'White's Only' hospital. School children are taught the tragic rumor of this pioneer's, who trained a generation of Black doctors at Howard University, death. Dr. Drew was an internationally known surgeon who revealed the bond we all had in common, plasma. The medical community, Black and White, revered him for it, and it is a shame that the narrative continues. This misinformation has been used to stoke racial division and reinforces the notion that America's race relations have not advanced in 400 years. Spencie Love writes in her book One Blood: The Death and Resurrection of Charles R. Drew (UNC Press 1996).

On April 1, 1950, Drew traveled to the Andrew Memorial Clinic in Tuskegee, Alabama, to deliver a lecture. He was accompanied by three of his resident physicians from Howard University. All four passengers were Black. Drew apparently fell asleep while driving. The car ran off the road (N.C.49 near Haw River) and rolled over. He was thrown out of the car, and the vehicle rolled over him. Drew suffered a nearly severed leg, massive chest injuries, a broken neck, brain damage, and complete blockage of the blood flow to his heart. Only one other person was seriously injured, John Ford, but he eventually recovered.

Drew and Ford were taken to Alamance General Hospital, a facilities-poor "White" hospital. The White doctors at Alamance began work immediately on the two injured men. Drew's injuries were so severe and his loss of blood so great that he could not be saved. His family later wrote letters to the attending physicians thanking them for their efforts. Ford was treated at Alamance for several days before being transported to Washington, a Black hospital.


During the early 20th Century, Black Americans knew they were building on the advances created by their forerunners. They were the children born after slavery and could measure the progress first-hand. They also held strong beliefs that God was also apart of America's progress. We must not forget these things and continue to move forward with the same dedication. The Martin Luther King Republicans encourage you to visit the Charles Drew House in Arlington, Virginia, where we gathered the following information on Dr. Drew.- Jimmy Lee Tillman, II founder and president.


Who was Dr. Charles Drew?

Dr. Charles Drew, who pioneered blood banking during the 1920s to 1940s, lived in a modest two-story frame house in North Arlington. He was also the first African American to receive a Doctorate of Science in Medicine. As Chief of Surgery at Freedmen's Hospital (now Howard University Hospital), Drew passed on crucial training to a new generation of black surgeons, many of whom would continue to integrate hospital workforces throughout the nation. He also opposed the American Red Cross's policy of segregated blood banks. Located just outside of Washington, DC, the Drew family home in Arlington, Virginia, was the physician's home base during his formative years of study from 1920 to 1939.



Drew was born at Freedmen's Hospital in 1904 to educated, middle-class parents. In response to strict segregation laws and social practices, black Washingtonians had developed strong cultural and intellectual centers. In his early years in DC, Drew took advantage of the institutions developed by blacks, including hikes and picnics organized by the Twelfth Street YMCA. He also attended Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, a nationally recognized black high school. Outside of academia, Drew was involved in programs at Nineteenth Street Baptist Church. Drew also excelled in sports. He had developed high self-confidence and determination.


Drew spent 18 years training to become a surgeon. After graduating from high school in 1922, Drew continued onto college. He began at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Even in the north, Drew experienced the ignorance of the times. He could not become the captain of the football team because of his skin color.


After graduating in 1926, Drew briefly taught biology and chemistry at Morgan State College in Baltimore, MD. Two years later, he moved to Canada to attend McGill Medical School. Here he first learned about blood transfusions as a way to treat patients in shock. Drew graduated from McGill and began to teach at Howard University in 1935. Yet three years later, he relocated to Columbia University in 1938 to earn his doctorate. While in New York, Drew met and married his wife, Lenore Robbins. They had four children together.


At Columbia, Drew chose to specialize in blood plasma and transfusions. Along with another student, he developed an experimental blood bank. This project became the basis of his dissertation, titled "Banked Blood: A Study in Blood Preservation." Throughout his education, Drew received scholarships, without which he could not have paid his McGill tuition.


In 1940, Drew completed his Ph.D. and returned to Freedmen's Hospital as a certified surgeon. He wished to settle down after his years of constant transition. However, the outbreak of World War II changed his plans. In September 1940, he moved back to New York to direct the Blood for Britain project. Already engaged in warfare, Britain needed portable blood. The initiative successfully delivered usable blood to those in need of emergency transfusions. In early 1941, Drew became the assistant director of the first American Red Cross blood bank. In April, now a certified diplomat of the American Board of Surgery, Drew returned to Freedmen's Hospital as Head of Surgery.



In October 1941, the Red Cross announced it would not take blood from black donors. In theory, Drew could not donate blood to the very program that he helped form. Amidst protest from the NAACP, the Red Cross amended its policy. Instead, it would segregate black and white blood banks. Drew voiced his disapproval of the policy in letters to friends, family, and officials. He argued there was no scientific evidence proving a difference in black and white blood. In 1943, Drew publicly spoke out against blood segregation. The American Red Cross did not change their policies until 1950.


Until his death in 1950, Drew called for medical schools to end their exclusion of black students. At his institution, Drew transformed the surgical department and training program. He provided modernized medical services to black citizens. On April 1, 1950, Drew died in a car accident on his way to a medical conference in Tuskegee, Alabama. Hundreds attended his funeral in Washington, DC. His family buried him in Lincoln Cemetery in Maryland.


The Drew House in Arlington, VA, serves as a reminder of Dr. Charles Drew's years of persistent training and work and his extraordinary accomplishments in medicine and civil rights. It is a monument to Drew's achievements in education and science. Drew's foundational research on plasma and blood banking helped modernize medicine and saved thousands of lives during World War II and later conflicts.



Sources:


"Biographical Information." The Charles R. Drew Papers. https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/retrieve/Narrative/BG/p-nid/336


Love, Spencie. One Blood: The Death and Resurrection of Charles R

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