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The Charles R. Drew Papers

Letter from Charles R. Drew [to the New Year] pdf (802,058 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Letter from Charles R. Drew [to the New Year]
Item is handwritten.
Number of Image Pages:
10 (802,058 Bytes)
1930-01-01 (January 1, 1930)
[Drew, Charles R.]
Original Repository: Howard University. Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Charles R. Drew Papers
Reproduced with permission of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.
Exhibit Category:
Education and Early Medical Career, 1922-1938
Unique Identifier:
Document Type:
Letters (correspondence)
Physical Condition:
12:30 A.M. Jan. 1, 1930
What a hell of a new year! As the year entered was paying the cashier at the Northeastern Lunch. Ten cents for tea and toast. I was cold from walking all over the city -- looking for what? I don't know. Excitement maybe, trouble -- most anything out of the ordinary just like the hordes I passed -- some laughing young couples -- they looked the happiest, other more elderly couples -- out seeking a return of the youth from which they had drawn away with the passage of days -- days which had turned their temples grey and slowed their steps. Gay young fellows in bands and small groups, yelling, playing, making believe they're having a good time, men and boys drunk and puking all over the side walks - noise, taxicabs, streetcars, lights whistles -- all a jumble, all moving crowds in front of the Theaters, a few quietly entering the churches, -- a sign in one church "Where do us go from here" by Rev. Dr. somebody. I wonder? Wished the boy at the counter in the lunch room a happy new year, but expressed regret at being at that particular place just then. He returned my greeting with the rejoinder that it wasn't such a bad place. The Northeastern never jipped me; then he thought my bill was 15 cents. I corrected him -- a few words -- I paid a dime. That's how my new year started -- with words over a nickel. All signs tend to point out that this whole year and few more right behind it will be spent
in this way.
Today I have not been hungry, I was well dressed, I am not sick and have had no great sorrow yet I have felt poorly today as I have never felt it before, I have a dollar. Thought I wanted to join the merry making in some form or another so bad that my very heart ached. I couldn't go far on a dollar, not even alone, and solitude is the only thing I enjoy alone. But tonight I didn't want solitude, I wanted companions, gay companions, girls and fellows, music, laughter, food and soft words, maybe a stolen kiss in the middle of a dance when soft arms are around my neck, when my breath itself is drawn then the aroma of brown curly hair or any kind of hair that's soft to the touch and sweet smelling, when flickering lights of delicate hues play in the depths of brown eyes that have that merry twinkle in them that you believe is for your alone, or black eyes that intrigue, draw you into their depths but tell you nothing, holding you in the ecstasy of expectancy, or blue eyes, clear, appealing, like the angels must have oh any kind of eyes that are kind, or mischievous or luring that look into your own and pause to linger awhile. My arms tonight should hold close to me some warm, vibrant body
whose touch would thrill me and make me forget that a thousand miles lies between me and those dearest to me. No, but this cannot be so. I have a dollar -- I am afraid to spend it -- tomorrow I must eat and the day after, and many days after that. How? Who knows. For days now I haven't been sure whether I'd eat or not. Tomorrow I know I will because I've been invited to dinner but the day? Yet I find no bitterness in me -- just a touch of sadness, a sort of infinite yearning, but a smile always breaks thru. When beggars stop me I enjoy it, perhaps I feel the attachment of a brother, I smile I don't know why, perhaps because man is so vain and their assumption that I have money is such flattery that I can't resist the temptation to feel inflated. When prostitutes stop me I believe that the look or answer is kind, for they, like me, have nothing. I sympathize with them, perhaps even envy them that they have something to sell while I have nothing. Once from my virtuous pedestal of ignorance I hated prostitutes, had no place in my idealistic world for such persons, considered them lower that beasts, earths vilest and most despicable lot. I still fear prostitutes, fear them for the harm they might do my body that I have cherished and taken such good care of, but my scorn has turned to pity in most of their cases.
Their crudeness, their dirt I still loath, but their souls I no longer damn, They have missed so much of life that is worthwhile, they have seen so much that isn't, they need so much. Their dreams, imaginations, hopes have either been taken from them or crushed, why not sell what they have left that is desirable to save the rest. Need is such a tough mistress. Today I got a card stating that there was a box for me in the post office. I didn't know what was in it. I didn't know what the duty would be. The day before Gladys had sent me a pair of bedroom slippers that cost $3.13 to get thru. It broke me, ruined my chances of having any fun tonight. I didn't have any money to get the package from my own family -- yet I must get it or it would go back and they would know that something was wrong. Where to get it? That is the question. I never ask favors. It is one of the things I am proud of. Rightly or wrongly proud I do not know. This I know -- that this pride sustains me when otherwise I would sink, not only in the eyes of others but in my own. To Mrs. Dowson I am Mr. Drew, one of McGill's best athletes and students, kindly, friendly, of happy disposition but not intimate. That must remain, I cannot borrow from her. My friends are home with their parents and families. I took my tuxedo and suitcase to the pawnshop to get money to save myself from em-
-barrassment if there should be duty on the goods. Luckily there was none, so I got my tux and bag back. In the end I had gained nothing, had just a little less money and my outlook just as dark, but if necessary I can sell both of them. If I should sell all I own and then find myself hungry I have no doubt but that I would steal. Here after my judgment of crime, my code of ethics shall be more tolerant than ever before, because now I know in slight measure what it means to be downhearted, worried, lonesome, even hungry. Yet my condition is as that of a prince when compared to many that I have passed tonight. For them even hope has been shut out, faith long ago blotted out, ideals perhaps never born or if born so ill nourished they never had a chance to grow, under developed in body and mind and spirit a hard cold indifferent world shoves them to the wall and they haven't the strength to fight back. Like animals they are treated, yet when they protect themselves and retaliate in the only way animals can, they are put in jail or made outcasts. Do I condone lawlessness, or filth? No, decidedly not, but I have come close enough to the causes of some of it to become a little taken back, in suffering a little I have learned much, have learned to understand. Truly a great prophet or wise man was he who said, "Get wisdom, but above all things get understanding." How little we understand, how little we try to. It is not
meanness, heartlessness, sometimes not even thoughtlessness, just a lack of experience which could make certain ideas comprehensible. My class mates today could not understand why I wouldn't go to the dance with them tonight. When I told some of them frankly that I was broke, they simply thought that I had over spent my allowance or my check hadn't come in or something to that effect. They don't understand that while $10 to some of them will mean -- well just ten dollars and maybe a note to Dad that to me it means a whole weeks living, or from my father it would mean an actual sacrifice for the rest of my family. Even an offer was made to pay my way. The fellow couldn't understand why as a friend I wouldn't accept it, especially when I had both admitted that I was broke and would like to go. If I accept gifts without the potentiality of repaying them I give up a part of my independence, I become indebted. My independence must maintain, as long as I am not obligated to any one in any way even poverty does not make me humble, as a man, I am the equal of any man I meet, I have to lean toward no man in either fear or gratitude, no one can make my decisions for me. When I allow myself to become obligated, I put myself in a position in which my judgments may become prejudiced by these obligations. Natural
obligations, or fate if we choose to call it that, circumscribes is enough, voluntary limitations of this already cramped freedom are certainly contraindicated.
I have wondered far in the three hours I have been writing, many things I have thought are not put down, many things written are not clearly so, for in my mind I am not clear. So many thoughts rush in, I am almost swamped. Why do I go on like I am? Living harder than I ever did. I don't know. I only know I must. It would be so much easier to do many other things. I gave up the chance to be a real leader in the field of physical training and athletics for my whole race. In it was honor enough to gratify most men, money enough to live on, social position if I desired, and close proximity to everything that I had known as dear and close to me. Yet here I am, a stranger amongst strangers in a strange land, broke busted, almost disgusted, doing my family no good, myself little that is now demonstrable. Yet I know I must go on somehow -- I must finish what I have started -- though no sure reward waits for me when I again go out to begin once more at the bottom and work up. This series of steps up to now are but stepping stones to reach the bottom round of the ladder which should lead me after many days of thinking to that common place of all who
pass this way. This is not a beautiful future, yet this is my life and my life it shall be. I like to take the responsibility for the finished products of this life by thinking as someone has said that "Life is the final expression of the universal Will" It is the inner meaning of evolution. That "this Will be done" in me I suppose is the final end of my daily aspirations and struggles. To something like this I must attribute the urge which forces me on, for I can find in my conscious experience any inspiration capable of such dynamic power. My family love me and I gloat in this love but they cannot inspire me to such efforts. They encourage by every word and deed, they are proud of me and for me, their prayer I know go with me, but I feel that some other power drives me and would continue to do so even if I should fulfill the fondest dreams of my parents. Love of women or some woman has inspired some men. I cannot claim this motive. I have known many women, many have held a big share of my heart, no one ever has had complete possession. For this I don't know whether to be glad or sorry. My mind I believe has always played too big a part, It has repeatedly inhibited my heart when there was
danger of attachments which might interfere with already existing plans. I have felt this inhibitory warning and have shied from love, Perhaps I am a fool to do so, but who can judge. The present throws this daily into my face, only the future can answer it for me. Many women have told me they love me, many of them, I believe I could love with all my heart if I dared. Together we would be happy. But damn it I can't take care of a wife and medicine too and as yet I haven't worked out any plan, besides I'm having one hell of a time with medicine alone. Money, that two-fold curse and boon to man. Ah what's the use. Can't figure it out but I know it's not as it should be. I'm spraying my strength all over the landladies sheets and all the desirable girls are wither married, planning to get married or in attempting to be decent and wait around for a proper proposal are so repressing and sublimating themselves or maybe something worse that by the time I'm able to take care of one of them there won't be anything but brain left and that darn soft in its ways. The hearts probably will be the seat of exact philosophic ratiocination instead of anything as gloriously foolish as love, while passion of any kind will have been suppressed in the name of virtue so long that it has given up trying, or has been overworked with proper
care to prevent babies that it is burned out, or so perverted that it is unrecognizable as such. Guess I'd better leave all this though till I can be more specific. Don't think I'll have much trouble with the virgins however - I know four that I'd put in that class who are over twenty. Thought I knew five but one of my best bets is now the acknowledged mistress of a man whose wife was formerly her best friend. So there you have it.
I'm getting sleepy now, so babe 1930 looks like the going is going to be hard for you so far as I'm concerned. Your birth was under an ominous sky, your early moments most inauspicious, you don't look a bit healthy but I'm going to try like the devil to make something out of you. Maybe your prognosis isn't as fatalistic as the present diagnosis indicates, but don't expect anything sudden or big to happen. Got to handle you awful carefully, I won't have to make many slips to make you count for naught so if you have any good luck with you spread it on thick or I might lose you. I'll check up with you in twelve months. In closing I must say again - this is a hell of a New Years day.
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