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Charles R. Drew

Charles Richard Drew
Charles Richard Drew
Born (1904-06-03)June 3, 1904
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Died April 1, 1950(1950-04-01) (aged 45)
Burlington, North Carolina, U.S.
Nationality American
Fields General surgery
Institutions Freedman's Hospital
Morgan State University
Montreal General Hospital
Howard University
Alma mater Amherst College, McGill University, Columbia University
Doctoral advisor John Beattie
Known for Blood banking, blood transfusions
Notable awards Spingarn Medal

Charles Richard Drew (June 3, 1904 – April 1, 1950) was an American physician, surgeon, and medical researcher. He researched in the field of blood transfusions, developing improved techniques for blood storage, and applied his expert knowledge to developing large-scale blood banks early in World War II. This allowed medics to save thousands of lives of the Allied forces.[1] The research and development aspect of his blood storage work is disputed.[2] As the most prominent African-American in the field, Drew protested against the practice of racial segregation in the donation of blood, as it lacked scientific foundation, and resigned his position with American Red Cross, which maintained the policy until 1950.[3]


  • Early life and education 1
  • Academic career 2
  • Blood plasma for British project 3
  • Personal life 4
  • Death 5
  • Legacy 6
    • Medical and higher education 6.1
    • K-12 schools 6.2
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Early life and education

Drew was born in 1904 into an African-American middle-class family in Washington, D.C. His father, Richard, was a carpet layer[4] and his mother, Nora Burrell, was a teacher. Drew and his siblings grew up in D.C.'s Foggy Bottom neighborhood[5] and he graduated from Dunbar High School in 1922.[6] Drew won an athletics scholarship to Amherst College in Massachusetts,[7] where he graduated in 1926.[8] An outstanding athlete at Amherst,[9] Drew also joined Omega Psi Phi fraternity.[10] He attended medical school at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, receiving his MDCM in 1933,[8] and ranked 2nd in his class of 127 students.[8] A few years later, Drew did graduate work at Columbia University, where he earned his Doctor of Medical Science degree, becoming the first African American to do so.[8]

Academic career

In 1941, Drew's distinction in his profession was recognized when he became the first African American surgeon selected to serve as an examiner on the American Board of Surgery.[11] Drew had a lengthy research and teaching career and became a chief surgeon.

Blood plasma for British project

In late 1940, before the U.S. entered World War II and just after earning his doctorate, Drew was recruited by John Scudder to help set up and administer an early prototype program for blood storage and preservation. He was to collect, test, and transport large quantities of blood plasma for distribution in the United Kingdom.[12] Drew went to New York to direct the United States' Blood for Britain project. The Blood for Britain project was a project to aid British soldiers and civilians by giving U.S. blood to the United Kingdom.

Drew created a central location for the blood collection process where donors could go to give blood. He made sure all blood plasma was tested before it was shipped out. He ensured that only skilled personnel handled blood plasma to avoid the possibility of contamination. The Blood for Britain program operated successfully for five months, with total collections of almost 15,000 people donating blood, and with over 5,500 vials of blood plasma.[12] As a result, the Blood Transfusion Betterment Association applauded Drew for his work. Out of his work came the American Red Cross Blood Bank.

Personal life

In 1939, Drew married Minnie Lenore Robbins, a professor of home economics at Spelman College whom he had met earlier that year.[13] They had three daughters and a son.[5] His daughter Charlene Drew Jarvis was the president of Southeastern University from 1996 until 2009.[14][15]


Illustration of Drew by Charles Alston in the collection of the National Archives

Beginning in 1939, Drew traveled to Tuskegee, Alabama to attend the annual free clinic at the John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital.[16] For the 1950 Tuskegee clinic, Drew drove along with three other black physicians. Drew was driving around 8 a.m. on April 1. Still fatigued from spending the night before in the operating theater, Drew lost control of the vehicle. After careening into a field, the car somersaulted three times. The three other physicians suffered minor injuries. Drew was trapped with serious wounds; his foot had become wedged beneath the brake pedal. When reached by emergency technicians, Drew was in shock and barely alive due to severe leg injuries.

Drew was taken to Alamance General Hospital in Burlington, North Carolina.[17] He was pronounced dead a half hour after he first received medical attention. Drew's funeral was held on April 5, 1950, at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

Despite a popular myth to the contrary, once repeated on an episode of the hit TV series M*A*S*H, Drew's death was not the result of his having been refused a blood transfusion because of his skin color. This myth spread very quickly since during Drew's time it was very common for blacks to be refused treatment because there weren't enough "Negro beds" available or the nearest hospital only serviced whites. In truth, according to one of the passengers in Drew's car, John Ford, Drew's injuries were so severe that virtually nothing could have been done to save him. Ford added that a blood transfusion might have actually killed Drew sooner.[17][18][19]


Numerous schools and health-related facilities, as well as other institutions, have been named in honor of Dr. Drew.

Medical and higher education

K-12 schools


  1. ^ "Patent For Preserving Blood Issued November 10, 1942; Washingtonian's invention made blood bank possible" (Press release). Brigid Quinn,  
  2. ^ Charles E. Wynes, Charles Richard Drew: The Man and the Myth (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1988), p. 58.
  3. ^ Dr. Charles Drew,
  4. ^ "Fifteenth Census of the United States (1930) [database on-line] , Arlington Magesterial District, Arlington County, Virginia, Enumeration District: 7-11, Page: 6B, Line: 69, household of Richard T. Drew".  
  5. ^ a b "The Charles R. Drew Papers". U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2010. Retrieved 2012-08-25. 
  6. ^ Charles B. Dew (April 7, 1995). "Stranger Than Fact".  
  7. ^ Biography of Drew from PBS website of the special "Red Gold"
  8. ^ a b c d Charles Drew page at Retrieved 2011-06-26.
  9. ^ Drew was awarded for his "athletic prowess" biography from Charles R. Drew University; a picture of Drew in his football uniform is available from the website of the National Medical Library
  10. ^ Famous Omegas from the official website of Omega Psi Phi, Inc.
  11. ^ ""My Chief Interest Was and Is Surgery"--Howard University, 1941-1950". The Charles R. Drew Papers. Profiles in Science (National Library of Medicine). Retrieved 2013-09-17.  Other sources put the date as late as 1943, e.g., PBS's Red Gold.
  12. ^ a b Starr, Douglas P. (2000). Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce. New York: Quill.  
  13. ^ Biography by United States National Library of Medicine
  14. ^ Hallman, L. (2004-06-04). Legacy and Memory of Charles Drew Lives On. The American National Red Cross. Retrieved 2007-04-01.
  15. ^ William F. Zeman (April 28, 2011). "Today in D.C. History: Post Columnist Urges ‘Formidable’ Jarvis to Challenge Barry".  
  16. ^ Anne E. Schraff (2003), Charles Drew: Pioneer in Medicine, Enslow Publishing, Inc. 
  17. ^ a b "Question of the Month: The Truth About the Death of Charles Drew".  
  18. ^ "Did the black doctor who invented blood plasma die because white doctors wouldn't treat him?".  
  19. ^ Sluby, Patricia Carter (2004). The Inventive Spirit of African Americans: Patented Ingenuity. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 112–13.  
  20. ^
  21. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1-57392-963-9
  22. ^ Charles Drew Health Center
  23. ^ About Dr. Charles R. Drew, Charles Drew Charles Drew Science Enrichment Laboratory, Michigan State University
  24. ^
  25. ^ Charles R. Drew Hall, Howard University
  26. ^ Amherst College page on the house
  27. ^ Charles R. Drew Elementary School, Miami-Dade County Public Schools
  28. ^ Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School, Broward County Public Schools
  29. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Bluford Drew Jemison S.T.E.M. Academy. Retrieved March 22, 2013. 
  30. ^ Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School, Montgomery County Public Schools

Further reading

  • Love, Spencie (1996) One Blood: The Death and Resurrection of Charles R. Drew, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, (1997 reprint) ISBN 0-8078-4682-1
  • Organ, Claude H., editor, ( 1987 ) A Century of Black Surgeons: The USA Experience, Transcript Press, ISBN 0-9617380-0-6 Vol. I, Asa G. Yancey, Sr., Chapter 2: The Life Of Charles R. Drew, MD
  • Schraff, Anne E. (2003) Dr. Charles Drew: Blood Bank Innovator, Enslow, ISBN 0-7660-2117-3
  • Wynes, Charles E. (1988) Charles Richard Drew: The Man and the Myth, University of Illinois Press, ISBN 0-252-01551-7

External links

  • SBAS Charles Drew - Black American Medical Pioneer
  • "Biography of Charles R. Drew", Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science
  • "Charles R. Drew Papers", online collection by the National Library of Medicine
  • "Charles R. Drew", The Straight Dope
  • Charles Drew, Florida State University
  • Charles Drew - The Black Inventor, Online Museum
  • "Charles R. Drew Collection", Nauck/Green Valley Heritage Project. Arlington Public Library, Arlington County, the Drew School, and the Nauck Civic Association.
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