Charles R. Drew Charter School opened in 2000 as the City of Atlanta's first public charter school. Drew's innovative Project-Based Learning (PBL) approach with an integrated STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) framework and a strong foundation in literacy helps all students reach their highest potential. Serving more than 1,800 students in grades Pre-K through 12, the school graduated its first class in 2017 with a 100% graduation rate. Drew represents the cradle-to-college pipeline in the East Lake community and is an integral part of a holistic neighborhood revitalization led by the East Lake Foundation.
Charles R. Drew Charter School is named in honor of Dr. Charles R. Drew, a trailblazing African-American surgeon who made groundbreaking discoveries in the storage and processing of blood for transfusions and organized the first large-scale blood bank in the United States.
Born in Washington D.C., on June 3, 1904, Dr. Drew grew up as a multi-sport athlete, winning several medals for swimming in his elementary years, and also excelling in football, basketball and other sports. In 1922, Drew graduated from the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, the academically elite first black high school in the nation. As a graduate, Drew later would become a notable member of Dunbar’s renowned graduates, who have included the first black member of a presidential cabinet, the first black graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and current U.S. congresswomen Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Following high school graduation, Drew attended Amherst College on a sports scholarship. There, he distinguished himself on the track and football teams and graduated in 1926. Without the financial means to pursue his dream of attending medical school, Drew became a biology instructor at Morgan State College, now Morgan State University, in Baltimore, Maryland, for two years. In 1928, he enrolled in medical school at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. At McGill, Drew became a top student, won a prize in neuroanatomy, and became a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, a medical honor society. He graduated second in his class, earning both Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degrees. Dr. Drew completed his internship and residency at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Montreal General Hospital. During this time, Drew studied with Dr. John Beattie, and they examined problems and issues regarding blood transfusions.
Dr. Drew later returned to the U.S. and became an instructor at Howard University’s Medical School and, in addition to teaching, completed a surgery residence at Freedmen’s Hospital, the major hospital for the African American community in Washington D.C., which upon its original founding served as the first hospital of its kind to aid in the medical treatment of former slaves.
In 1938, Drew received a Rockefeller Fellowship for doctorial studies at Columbia University and training at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. There, he continued his exploration of blood-related matters with John Scudder. Drew developed a method for processing and preserving blood plasma (blood without cells). As plasma can be preserved much longer than whole blood, Dr. Drew discovered that the plasma could be dried and then reconstituted when needed, making it possible to be stored or “banked” for longer periods of time. His research served as the basis of his doctorate thesis “Banked Blood". Drew received his doctorate degree in 1940, becoming the first African-American to earn this degree from Columbia.
After graduating from Columbia, his blood bank expertise was highly sought. Drew was selected to head up a special medical effort in support of World War II known as "Blood for Britain." Under this initiative, he organized the collection and processing of blood plasma from several New York hospitals and the shipments of these life-saving materials overseas to treat war causalities. One report estimated that Dr. Drew helped collect roughly 14,500 pints of plasma.
Perhaps his most well-known work was in 1941, when Drew spearheaded another blood bank effort, this time for the American Red Cross. Through this effort, he worked on developing a blood bank to be used for U.S. military personnel. However, he soon became frustrated with the military's request to segregate the blood donated by African Americans. Initially, the military did not want to use blood from African Americans, but they later said African American blood could only be used for African American soldiers. Drew strongly disagreed with this policy, and resigned his post after only a few months.
Following his time with the American Red Cross, Drew returned to Howard University and served as a professor there, heading up the university's department of surgery. He also became the chief surgeon at Freedmen's Hospital. Late in 1941, he became the first African-American examiner for the American Board of Surgery.
A few years later, the NAACP honored Dr. Drew with its 1943 Spingarn Medal for "the highest and noblest achievement" by an African American "during the preceding year or years." The award was given in recognition of Drew's blood plasma collection and distribution efforts.
In 1950, Drew and three other physicians were driving to a medical conference at Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, in Alabama. Dr. Drew was severely injuring as the result of a one-car accident on the trip. Although he was treated at a nearby North Carolina hospital, Dr. Drew succumbed to death due to his injuries. Dr. Drew was survived by his wife and four children.
In 1981, the U.S. Postal Service issued the Charles R. Drew, M.D. postage stamp, as a part of the Great Americans Series, to recognize his achievements. Today a medical school, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, California, is named in his honor. The University, in its emphasis on service to the community, draws its inspiration from the impactful life of Dr. Drew, who will forever be known by most as the “father of blood banks”.
Drew Charter School proudly acknowledges its namesake, Dr. Charles R. Drew, and his legacy of noble courage, outstanding innovation, stand for social and racial justice and unparalleled achievement. May Dr. Drew’s story serve as an impetus for the students of Drew, as a STEAM school, to continuously innovate, strive for excellence, uphold equity and exemplify the “success that runs in our blood”. May his example serve to turn Drew students of today into trailblazers of the 21st century.
Drew Charter School acknowledges the following sources for biographical information about Dr. Charles R. Drew:
- Stewart, Alison. First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, Americas First Black Public High School. Chicago Review, 2015.