Dr. Charles Richard Drew Biography

Biography of Dr. Charles Richard Drew, his accomplishments and the disputed story surrounding his death.

Dr. Charles Richard Drew was not only a great pioneer in Medical Science, but he was also one of the first Famous Black people to speak out against racial injustices, and in turn has become a perceived martyr for the African American Race. As an African American, knowing that racial justices exist, It was easy to believe the story that he died due to discrimination, as I had been told since childhood. Upon close examination and with a little research one will find, however that the facts surrounding his death may very well have been greatly exaggerated.

Born June 3rd, 1904 in Washington D.C, Dr Drew had a charmed childhood where excelled in various sports through his college years. Just as he was skilled in various sports, he also excelled academically. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Amherst University, where he graduated with honors in 1926. "He received a Medical Doctorate (M.D.) and Master of Surgery (C.M.) from McGill University (where he began his blood research,) Montreal, Quebec in 1933. In 1940 Dr. Drew received a Doctor of Science in Medicine from Columbia University in 1940". (Faces of Science, African Americans in the Sciences)

After several internships in Canada, Dr. Drew became Instructor in Pathology at Howard University in 1936 as well as an Assistant in Surgery, where he worked on his ideas for blood preservation. Eventually, he became Professor of Surgery and Chief Surgeon for Freedmen's Hospital. By removing blood cells (plasma) from blood, Dr. Drew lengthened the shelf life of stored blood, and was then able to organize the world's first Blood bank in London during WWII. Prior to initiating the blood bank in London, he was the director of the Red Cross. In the 1940's we became well know for his work and received many honors and rewards.

"In 1941, Drew resigned his position (with the Untied States Army) after the war department sent out orders that blood taken from white donors should not be mixed with black donors. This issue caused wide spread controversy. Drew referred to this as "a stupid blunder". He said that there was no scientific basis to indicate any difference in human blood from race to race. He returned to Howard University to teach surgery." (Charles Drew Science Club) It was rare in those days for a Negro to be so outspoken in racial matters. Until this time, most famous blacks were careful not to "Rock the Boat" for fear of losing their elevated social status. Speaking our about the status quo policies of the Army at the time was probably why Dr. Drew became such and African American hero, and perhaps the reason why stories of his death have been greatly disputed, and perhaps even exaggerated.

The most widely known story surrounding his death is as follows: "Dr. Drew was killed in an automobile accident while on a medical meeting in 1950. His life could of been saved, but due to discrimination, white hospitals nearby did not give him the blood transfusion he needed" (Charles Drew Science Club) Hence it is believed that Dr. Drew was denied his the fruit of his own labor and therefore died. It turns out that the stories surrounding Dr. Drews Death my very well be a urban myth even though the story was even found in Time Magazine. The argument that disputes this legend of his death is that: Dr. Drew suffered fatal injuries in the wreck. As he was not the only physician in the car, the remaining three doctors, two of whom were also injured, gave him prompt attention. He was taken to a nearby segregated hospital where his treatment included a blood transfusion of both whole blood and plasma. Despite argument to the contrary, the stories about Dr Crews untimely and tragic death still lives on. It has been printed as late as December 1981 in the McGill Reporter, a Mc Gill University Publication. At that time "it brought a vigorous denial from Dr. Edward Bensley, professor emeritus of medicine at McGill, .... Part of the evidence that Dr. Bensley had was a copy of a letter written by Dr. Ford [another black physician who was with Dr. Drew in the accident], in which Ford tried to lay the 'bled to death' canard to rest." Dr. Ford has been quoted as saying: "Doctor Drew's cause of death was that of a broken neck and complete blockage of the blood flow back to the heart. Immediately following the accident in which he was half thrown out of the car, and actually crushed to death by the car as it turned over the second time, the doctors who were able to, got out of the car quickly and came to Doctor Drew's rescue, but it was of no avail because even at that time, it was quite obvious that his chances of surviving were nil." It has been hypothesized that: "(the myth regarding Drew's Death) may be a mutation of a myth concerning Bessie Smith's ( a famous Black Jazz Singer) death in 1937. She also died in a car crash in the South, and the myth circulated that she had died outside a "white's only" hospital after being refused admittance. In fact, she was taken directly to a "black" hospital by the black ambulance driver - half a mile from the nearby "white" hospital - where she died from internal injuries." (urban myths)

While it is important for Black Americans to have role models whom they can look up too, blindly believing stories regarding our heroes is not the way we should fill our record books. Dr. Charles Richard Drew was a brilliant Scientist who was the first to organize blood banks and had a huge impact on the number of lives saved in WWII. Dr. Charles Richard Drew stood his ground and refused to participate in the systematic discrimination of the 1940's. However, It is seriously unlikely that he died at the hands of bigots who would not administer to him the lifesaving plasma that he himself had made available to hospitals.


· Rockefeller Fellow, in Surgery, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia

· Washington Medical Director (1946-1947)

· Surgical Consultant, ETO (Army)

· Director of the first Plasma Division, Blood Transfusion Association, supplying plasma to the British (1940-1941)

· First Director, A.R.C. Blood Bank, supplying blood to the U.S. forces (1941)

· America-Soviet Science Commission (1944)

· Distinguished Service Medal, National Medical Association (posthumously) (1950)

· General Education Board Fellow in Surgery

· Spingarn Medal (1944)

· U.S. postage stamp issued in his honor (1981)

Citation for the Twenty-Ninth Spingarn Medal , NAACP (stats from Faces)



Dr. Charles Drew Science club; http://www.albany.edu/~cdsc/CDSCDREW.HTM?clkd=iwm

Faces of Science: African Americans in the Sciences; http://www.princeton.edu/~mcbrown/display/charles_drew.html?clkd=iwm

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