Dr. Charles R. Drew
Black History Highlight - 2008
Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science is named in
honor of the brilliant African-American physician, famous for his pioneering
work in blood preservation. The University, in its emphasis on service to the
community, draws its inspiration from the life of Drew, whose short 46 years
were full of achievements, learning and sharing of his knowledge to benefit
Charles Drew was born June 3, 1904, in Washington,
D.C. He attended Amherst College
where his athletic prowess in track and football earned him the Mossman trophy
as the man who contributed the most to athletics for four years. He then taught
biology and served as coach at Morgan State College in Baltimore
before entering McGill University School of Medicine in Montreal. As a medical student, Drew became
an Alpha Omega Alpha Scholar and won the J. Francis Williams Fellowship, based
on a competitive examination given annually to the top five students in his
graduating class. Drew received his MD degree in 1933 and served his first
appointment as a faculty instructor in pathology at Howard University,
from 1935 to 1936. He then became an instructor in surgery and an assistant
surgeon at Freedman's Hospital, a federally operated facility associated with Howard University.
In 1938, Drew was awarded a two-year Rockefeller fellowship in surgery and he
began postgraduate work, earning his Doctor of Science in Surgery at Columbia University. His doctoral thesis,
"Banked Blood" was based on an exhaustive study of blood preservation
techniques. It was while he was engaged in research at Columbia's
Presbyterian Hospital that his ultimate destiny in
serving mankind was shaped. The military emergency of World War II had a
demanding vital need for information and procedures on how to preserve blood.
As the European war scene became more violent and the need for blood plasma
intensified, Drew, as the leading authority in the field, was selected as the
full-time medical director of the Blood for Britain project. He supervised the
successful collection of 14,500 pints of vital plasma for the British. In
February 1941, Drew was appointed director of the first American Red Cross
Blood Bank, in charge of blood for use by the U.S. Army and Navy. During this
time, Drew agitated the authorities to stop excluding the blood of
African-Americans from plasma-supply networks, and in 1942, he resigned his
official posts after the armed forces ruled that the blood of African-Americans
would be accepted but would have to be stored separately from that of whites.
The NAACP awarded him the Spingarn Medal in 1944 in recognition of his work
on the British and American projects. Virginia State College presented him an
honorary doctor of science degree in 1945, as did his alma mater Amherst in 1947.
Drew returned to Freedman's Hospital and Howard University
where he served as a professor of medicine and surgeon from 1942 to 1950. On
April 1, 1950, Drew was motoring with three colleagues to the annual meeting of
the John A. Andrews Association in Tuskegee,
Alabama, when he was killed in a
one-car accident. The automobile struck the soft shoulder of the road and
overturned. Drew was severely injured and rushed to nearby Alamance County
in Burlington, North Carolina. In the words of his widow,
"everything was done in his fight for life" by the medical staff.
However, it was too late to save him.
At his untimely death, Charles Drew left behind a devoted wife, Lenore, four
children and a legacy of inspirational, unstinting dedication to service for
all people. In 1981, the U.S. Postal Service paid tribute to Drew by issuing in
his honor, a stamp in the GREAT AMERICANS Series.
The Men of Omega Psi Phi hold a special place in their heart for Dr. Charles Drew along with Mercer Cook for they penned "Omega Dear," which is the Fraternity's hymn.