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Charles R. Drew (1904-1950), the renowned surgeon, teacher, and blood plasma researcher, was a native Washingtonian. He graduated from Dunbar High School in 1922 and Amherst College in 1925, excelling in academics and sports. After graduation from Amherst College, he taught biology and chemistry at Morgan College (now Morgan State University) in Baltimore, and also served as the athletic director. He went to medical school at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, graduating with a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degree in 1933. He did his residency at Montreal General Hospital and was certified as a surgical specialist in 1935. He returned to Washington and began his tenure as a professor of surgery at Howard University and as a surgeon at Freedmen's Hospital (now Howard University Hospital).

In 1938 Drew met Spelman College professor Lenore Robbins and married her five months later. They had four children, Bebe, Charlene, Rhea, and Charles, Jr.

In 1940 Drew completed an advanced training program at Columbia University, which resulted in a Doctor of Science in Medicine degree. His dissertation, "Banked Blood: A Study in Blood Preservation," detailed a method of storing blood as plasma in order to increase its storage life. This innovation is still used today. Because of his pioneering work in this area, he was invited to join the National Research Council and the American Red Cross in 1941 to set up a blood banking process. But when racist policies of the U.S. government required the segregation of blood by the race of donor, Drew refused to participate and discontinued this work. He became a crusader for non-segregated blood banks and returned to Freedmen's Hospital in 1942.

From 1944 until 1948 he served as the hospital's chief of staff and medical director. Drew lived a productive yet short life. He was killed in an automobile accident in North Carolina while driving to a medical conference. A legend has grown up that his death was the result of a white hospital's refusal to give him blood. The ironic story is not true in his case, but it was true for others who were turned away for treatment by white hospitals during the era of segregation.


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