Dr. Charles R. Drew

Charles R Drew

Charles R Drew (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr Charles R. Drew was one of those rare individuals who was good at whatever he attempted to accomplish. He was an athlete, educator, inventor, and medical researcher. He did suffer from one failing however, which might have hindered the career of one less talented. He was Black, at a time and place where Black was decidedly not beautiful.

Dr. Drew was born in Washington D.C. on July 3, 1904. He attended Dunbar High School, a school for Blacks which had a high academic reputation. At Dunbar, he was a star athlete who played football, baseball and basketball He also was involved in swimming and track. Drew graduated from Dunbar in 1922 and attended Amherst College where he graduated in 1926. He took a job as a biology teacher at Morgan State University, but then he decided to attend medical school at McGill University in Montreal Canada. He obtained his MD in 1933 and then became the first African-American to get a Doctor of Medical Science degree at Columbia University.

Dr. Drew’s chief contributions to medical science were in the field of blood transfusion. He discovered that blood could be kept longer by separating the plasma from the whole blood. He also learned that while people of various blood types, (A, B, AB, O) may or may not receive transfusions from other blood types, depending on compatibility, blood plasma was always compatible and could be used in transfusions in the place of whole blood, if necessary. He encouraged Columbia University to set up blood banks and helped to organize blood banks during World War II.

Charles Drew died in an automobile accident on April 1, 1950 and the circumstances of his death are really the reason I am writing this post, although Dr. Drew does deserve more recognition than he has gotten. There was a rumor that his death was because a White hospital refused to admit him and by the time he could be taken to a Black hospital, he had bled to death. This rumor is simply not true. The actual fact was that he was admitted to a hospital as quickly as possible but his injuries were so severe that there was nothing that could be done for him. If you think about it, surely no medical professional would send a dying  patient away, no matter how prejudiced. They would surely wait until the patient was stabilized enough to be moved before transferring him out.

I first encountered this story in an episode of MASH. There was a wounded soldier who requested that he not receive any “dark” blood, (actually blood was segregated during World War II, to Dr. Drew’s disgust) so the surgeons dyed his skin and pretended that he had been turned Black. When the soldier had had enough, Hawkeye, the one played by Alan Alda, explained to him what they had done and then recounted the story of Charles Drew’s death in his particularly smug and self-righteous fashion. The soldier learned his lesson.

It seems to me that even in those dark and primitive times before Al Gore invented the Internet and Google was available, the script writers might have done a little research and learned that the story was false. Perhaps that was too much trouble for them. Maybe, they were not inclined to let the facts get in the way of a story that portrays America as irredeemably and viciously racist.

Why are there no Dr. Drews these days? I suppose there must be some Black scientists and inventors but somehow I haven’t heard of them. Where are the Black entrepreneurs?  There don’t seem to be any African-American equivalents of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. Why is it that the only Blacks I do read of in the news are athletes, criminals, rap artists, and politicians? Some people might attribute this seeming lack to racial inferiority or oppressive racism but there seems to have been quite a few accomplished and successful Blacks in the bad, old days of segregation and Jim Crow. Dr. Charles Drew and George Washington Carver weren’ t the only Black researchers and inventors. There were a number of successful Black business men and there were even a few slave holders in the old South. There was even a thriving African-American cultural scene with talented artists far superior to today’s rap singers. The Black family was far more secure than is the case in today’s African-American community. Even under slavery, there were fewer Black children being raised in single parent households.

It may be heresy to suggest this, but I wonder if the Civil Rights movement was an unmixed blessing for the African American community. Obviously, it is manifestly unjust to deny basic civil rights to people based on their race and that is something that needed to be ended. Yet it seems to me that African-Americans of the pre-Civil Rights era were more willing to try to rise above the discrimination they faced. Of course, there are now Blacks at the highest levels of success nowadays and no one would argue that racism is worse today than a century ago. But there does seem to be that underclass which seems to be trapped and unable to improve itself.

I think, and I could be wrong, that a central message of the Civil Rights movement, at least after a certain point, has been that African-Americans have no chance of succeeding in a racist country like America. They need constant help from the government and the Democratic Party. Perhaps this message, repeated often enough and believed by all too many Blacks has done what slavery and segregation could not, break the will to succeed and turn people who should be proud into resentful victims.

If anyone does know the names of any first-rate Black inventors, scientists or businessmen, please let me know. I would like for this thesis of mine to be proved wrong. In any event, I would very much prefer that Black scientists and scholars get more recognition than thugs and rappers.

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