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Black History Month: THE Dr. Drew Charles


Realistic art of Dr. Charles Drew with a microscope in his lab coat.
Art of Dr. Charles Drew.

Last week, we reviewed the fascinating story of Sojourner Truth, an African-American civil and women’s rights activist. Sojourner was just one of many undiscovered heroes who changed the lives of millions. This week, we’ll be diving into the story of Dr. Charles Drew, the physician and surgeon who broke boundaries for African-Americans while also making one of the largest advancements in the health field during the 20th-century (Miller).


Dr. Charles Drew (1904-1950) started out as a spectacular athlete. He was involved in basketball, baseball, football, and track and field at Washington D.C.’s Dunbar High School. Next, he attended Amherst College in Massachusetts and was an All-American halfback in football and the captain of the track team. Unfortunately, Drew could not afford to attend medical school in the United States; so he earned his next degree at McGill University in Montreal. After this, he returned to America and taught students at Howard University medical school. He then became the first African-American to get his doctorate from Columbia University in 1940.

Black and white photo in front of brick building with a team of African-American male football players in tank-tops with young Dr. Charles Drew in the middle.
Drew with his football team.

Quickly, Dr. Charles Drew advanced in the medical field as one of the world-leaders in blood transfusions and storage. At this time, the United States really started getting involved in World War II, so this knowledge was vital to the health and preservation of our soldiers. His research elaborated on how to properly store blood, how donors should be recruited and screened, and training methods for people who collect and test blood. This breakthrough was revolutionary given that the need for blood was so huge.


However, at this time the Red Cross declared that the blood from African-American donors would be segregated (there is no difference between the two). Because of this, Dr. Drew Charles left the Red Cross and continued teaching at Howard University medical school training black physicians and serving as head of surgery at Freedman’s Hospital in Washington D.C. Tragically, the doctor was involved in a fatal car crash in Burlington, North Carolina at the age of 45. It is reported that Drew was returning from a clinic at another hospital.

A sign at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science that reads at the bottom "Education - Our Fundamental Resources" with street art of Martin Luther King Junior in the background.
Sign at CDU school of Medicine and Science.

Dr. Charles Drew’s legacy lives on. In Willowbrook, California, a college is named after him: Charles R. Drew College of Medicine and Science. The school founded in 1966 is a historically black graduate school, since its purpose was to spread health education to communities with little access. Not only do the students of CDU represent Drew’s accomplishments, but every single donor and recipient of blood does as well. Without Dr. Charles Drew’s teachings, the medical field would be severely lacking--Drew is still saving lives.


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