Black History Month Spotlight: Charles Richard Drew
Hunter Epperson ~ Staff Wrtier
Charles Richard Drew, MD, or the “father of the blood bank,” was born in Washington, DC., on June 3, 1904.
Drew made long strives for equality since “he was recruited, and was offered a scholarship, to play football and track at Amherst College in Massachusetts,” according to the American Chemical Society. At Amherst College, Drew was one of only thirteen African Americans among the student body before graduating and attending McGill University College of Medicine in Montreal, Canada.
While a student at McGill, Drew won the annual scholarship prize in the field of neuroanatomy, was inducted into the medical honor society Alpha Omega Alpha, and was a staff member for the McGill Medical Journal. The American Chemical Society also reported that he won the J. Francis William Prize in medicine and graduated second in his class before becoming a pathology instructor at Howard University, before becoming a surgical instructor and chief surgical resident at Freedmen’s Hospital.
In 1938, while Drew was earning his doctorate at Columbia University, he was offered a fellowship at Presbyterian Hospital in New York under Dr. Allen Whipple and John Scudder’s supervision, where he began research on blood banking.
During this time, Drew published his dissertation “Banked Blood: A Study in Blood Preservation,” which was considered a masterpiece’ and ‘one of the most distinguished essays ever written, both in form and content,’” and also made Drew the first African American to earn a medical doctorate from Columbia. In addition to this, his research helped him seal his reputation as a pioneer and earned him the title “father of the blood bank,” and helped establish blood banking for the American Red Cross.
However, since the Red Cross excluded African Americans from donating blood or being associated with the Red Cross, Drew went back to Howard University, where he served as the Head of the Department of Surgery and Chief of Surgery at Freedmen’s Hospital. As Head of the Department of Surgery and Chief of Surgery at Freedmen’s Hospital, his mission was to “train young African American surgeons who would meet the most rigorous standards in any surgical specialty” and “place them in strategic positions throughout the country where they could, in turn, nurture the tradition of excellence,” as stated by the American Chemical Society.
Drew also campaigned against the exclusion of black physicians from local medical societies, medical specialty organizations, and the American Medical Association, according to the American Chemical Society.
In a tragic turn of events, Drew died in North Carolina on April 1, 1950, after falling asleep at the wheel while driving to a conference. However, “his pioneering research and systematic developments in the use and preservation of blood plasma during World War II not only saved thousands of lives but innovated the nation’s blood banking process and standardized procedures for long-term blood preservation and storage techniques adapted by the American Red Cross,” according to the American Chemical Society.