Faces of Our History: Charles R. Drew

dr-charles-richard-drew2Charles Richard Drew was born on June 3, 1904 in Washington D.C. He grew up in a middle class family, his father was a carpet layer and his mother was a teacher. Charles was a great athlete, and won scholarship to attended Amherst College in Boston, Massachusetts. College life was difficult as he was one of only 13 African-Americans out of 600 students that made up the student body. Racial tension was at a high, he was subjected to hostility from other teams. Even his own team wouldn’t make him captain in his senior year, although he proved worthy of the title.

Charles’s biology professor piqued his interest in medicine, despite the field being segregated. He attended medical school at McGill University in Canada. In 1933, he received his MD and CM all while graduating 2nd in his class. Soon after he went to Columbia University where he earned his Doctor of Medical Science degree. He was the first African-American to do so.

Charles was recruited by John Scudder to help set up and manage an early prototype program for blood storage and preservation after he earned his doctorate. His job was to collect, test and transport big amounts of blood plasma for distribution in the U.K. He ended up creating a central location for the blood collections, which then kicked off the American Red Cross Blood Bank.

Surprisingly so, the Red Cross excluded African-Americans from donating blood. So Charles was unable to participate in a program he established. Later on, the decision was made to allow African-Americans to donate blood but that was segregated between the races. That meant African-American blood would only go to African-Americans that needed it.

In 1941, Charles went back to Howard University serving as the Head of the Department of surgery and Chief of Surgery at Freedmen’s Hospital. There he trained other African-Americans who had to meet certain requirements that met with any surgical specialty.

Charles died tragically in a car accident on April 1, 1950. He fell asleep at the wheel while driving to a conference.

He will be forever be known as the “Father of the Blood Bank”.

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