Blood, Myths and the Creation of Legends

Article excerpt

Blood, Myths and the Creation of Legends

One of my best literary friends [is crime investigator author Dan Moldea. Often interviewed on national television, Moldea is the author of The Hoffa Wars, The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy, and Evidence Dismissed: The Inside Story of the Police Investigation of O.J. Simpson. When examining a mysterious case in which a well known person has died, Moldea told me his first objective is to get to the basic facts -- review the public record, examine the physical evidence, and talk to all possible sources and witnesses.

This is something historian Spencie Love sets out to do in One Blood: The Death and Resurrection of Charles R. Drew, which is a fascinating account of the 1950 tragic automobile accident which claimed the life of the outstanding medical surgeon and Black leader.

In 1950, Charles Drew was the chairman of Howard University's Medical School Surgery Department and chief surgeon at Freedmen's Hospital (now Howard University Hospital). During World War II, he was responsible for pioneering scientific research in blood plasma and blood banking. He was also outspoken about segregated medical practices in the United States -- especially policies that initially excluded Black blood from American Red Cross blood banks, and later segregated Black and White blood.

As a result of his achievements in the medical field, Drew's death -- which many people erroneously believe was caused by denial of medical services -- encouraged various beliefs which upheld the painful reminder of segregation within the Black community. Rumors circulated following the Drew accident reflecting the state of race relations in the United States at the time and the perceived hostility against Black people in the South.

One Blood is not a biography of Charles Drew. Instead, it is an examination of how rumors and the opinions of people help determine history.

Love's approach to her material is based on new research methods. She aims to show how "there are different kinds of historical truth," and that the history people pass on orally -- a group's legends -- is an important clue not only to how they feel and think about their past, but also to the very substance of that past. History, according to Love, is derived from people's memories.

How and why a Charles Drew legend developed is a major part of Love's research. Her book encourages one to reread Patricia A. Turner's I Heard B Through The Grapevine, which examines how rumors circulate within African American culture. I am certain that if I was on the Howard campus back in 1950 and learned about the tragic death of Drew, I would have been shocked and wondering if the news reports were accurate. I probably would have held on to my own beliefs, regardless of the facts, and would have passed on a few rumors myself. In time, however, rumors help shape the legends we believe. …