August 20, 1944:
On this day the Spingarn Medal was presented to Charles R. Drew “who set up and ran the blood plasma bank in the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City which served as one of the models for the widespread system of blood banks now in operation for the American Red Cross.”
In order to understand the significance of this, let me give you pertinent info on the award itself as well as Dr. Drew.
The Spingarn Medal is awarded annually by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for outstanding achievement by an African American. The award was created in 1914 by Joel Elias Spingarn, chairman of the Board of Directors of the NAACP. It was first awarded to biologist Ernest E. Just in 1915, and has been given most years thereafter.
Charles Richard Drew was born on June 3, 1904, in Washington, D.C. He was an African-American physician who developed ways to process and store blood plasma in “blood banks.” He directed the blood plasma programs of the United States and Great Britain in World War II, but resigned after a ruling that the blood of African-Americans would be segregated. Dr. Drew pioneered methods of storing blood plasma for transfusion and organized the first large-scale blood bank in the U.S. After creating two of the first blood banks, Drew returned to Howard University in 1941. He served as a professor there, heading up the university’s department of surgery. He also became the chief surgeon at Freedmen’s Hospital. Later that year, he became the first African-American examiner for the American Board of Surgery.
For the final years of his life, Drew remained an active and highly regarded medical professional. He continued to serve as the chief surgeon at Freedmen’s Hospital and a professor at Howard University. On April 1, 1950, Drew and three other physicians attended a medical conference at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Drew was behind the wheel when his vehicle crashed near Burlington, North Carolina. His passengers survived, but Drew succumbed to his injuries. He left behind his wife, Minnie, and their four children.
Drew was only 45 years old at the time of his death, and it is remarkable how much he was able to accomplish in such a limited amount of time. As the Reverend Jerry Moore said at Drew’s funeral, Drew had “a life which crowds into a handful of years’ significance, so great, men will never be able to forget it.”
Since his passing, Drew has received countless posthumous honors. He was featured in the United States Postal Service’s Great Americans stamp series in 1981, and his name appears on educational institutions across the country.
He died on April 1, 1950.