Drew, Charles

Drew, Charles

(1904–50) medical researcher; born in Washington, D.C. He grew up in modest circumstances in a black ghetto, but his academic and athletic accomplishments gained him a scholarship to Amherst College. After graduation (1926), he taught and coached at Morgan College (now Morgan State) in Baltimore, Md., for two years before attending medical school at McGill University in Montreal. By the time he graduated (1932), he had decided to be a medical researcher, concentrating on the problems of blood transfusion. He had also decided to identify himself as an African-American, even though his light complexion, red hair, and facial features would have allowed him to "pass" as a white. After completing his residency in Montreal General Hospital (1935), he went to Howard University as an instructor, then took a two-year fellowship at Columbia University (1938–40) before returning to Howard as head of the department of surgery. Meanwhile, his research had succeeded, first in finding the best way to "bank" whole blood, and then to store only the plasma. In 1940–41 he went to New York City to head the Plasma for Britain program, so vital with World War II now underway. This led to his being appointed head of the U.S. National Blood Bank program (1941), but when he learned that only Caucasians' blood was wanted—and that any African-Americans' blood collected could be given only to other blacks—he publicly denounced this and quit, returning to Howard University. By 1944 he was appointed chief of staff of the Freedman's Hospital affiliated with Howard; as a result of his years at Howard, African-Americans increasingly came to be accepted in the medical profession. Greatly honored by now, he died prematurely in an automobile accident.
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