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ONE BLOOD by Spencie Love


The Death and Resurrection of Charles R. Drew

by Spencie Love

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1996
ISBN: 0-8078-2250-7
Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina

A thoughtful and articulate examination of the power—and reality—of myth as an engine of history. Journalist and historian Love explores the life and legend of Charles Drew, an African-American surgeon who made a significant contribution to the development and distribution of blood plasma in the early 1940s and later devoted himself to creating a team of black surgeons who could serve their communities in racially divided America. In 1950, the 45-year-old Drew was grievously injured in a car accident in rural North Carolina and taken to a segregated hospital, where white doctors worked feverishly but unsuccessfully to save his life. Almost overnight, the legend grew up that Drew had died because the hospital had turned him away on account of his race. Despite efforts to dispel it by his family and others who knew the truth, the myth became generally accepted as fact among black Americans, often finding its way into print, including popular biographies of Drew. Love shows that the legend had its basis in the realities of African-American experience, which did, in fact, encompass routine denial of medical care; she describes the case of Maltheus Avery, who died a few months after Drew under circumstances that matched those of the Drew legend. Love explains that the confluence of Drew's identity as a black pioneer in blood research with the reality, both literal and metaphorical, of blacks ``bleeding to death'' as a result of white racism lent itself perfectly to belief in the legend. Without denying the importance of verifiable facts to historical analysis, she persuasively argues that a group's shared memory, even if inaccurate, provides an important guide to the truths of its experience. The book's one flaw is, ironically, that it sometimes gets bogged down in the facts of Drew's and Avery's lives. An illuminating study, not only of black and American history, but of History itself. (36 illustrations, not seen)