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Dr. Percy L. Julian: Noted Chemical Scientist
Dr. Julian was noted for many medial and industrial discoveries. The one dearest to his heart and that had such far-reaching humanitarian aspects was his creation of a chemical known as Compound S, a man-made cousin of the miracle drug Cortisone. in the 1940's, Dr. Julian developed a way of making the medicine from the inexpensive American soybean instead of from the costly ingredient found in certain parts of animals and produced in Europe. Thousands who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis regained the use of their limbs after treatment with Compound S. It also had many other uses especially for allergy suffers.
Like a true contemporary of George Washington Carver, Dr. Julian also made use of soybean by-products in the manufacture of paint, paper, drugs, and a number of hormones, vitamins, and amino acids. His work produced over 100 patents, including one for the synthesis of physostigmine (sued to treat glaucoma), and a means for the large production of two important hormones, testosterone and progesterone. Again, using the soybean, Dr. Julian isolated a protein which later was the basis for a fire-fighting solution used by the navy aboard their ships in World War II.
Percy Julian was the oldest of six children. His father, James Julian worked as a railroad clerk in Montgomery, Alabama and was a strict disciplinarian. (They later moved to Green Castle, Indiana. Dr. Julian remembered his father this way: "Failure by any member of his family was inconceivable. He wan an intellectual person, who collected the writings of Herbert Spencer and was a mathematical genius. His gift of imagination and correlation could have made him a brilliant scientist." Percy and his youngest brother Emerson, a Baltimore physician, often joked about their upbringing. "Percy, being the oldest suffered the most from their strict upbringing." He relates this anecdote, "Percy came home from school one day with an 80 in something, he showed it to dad and just as pleased as punch, expecting to be congratulated. Dad glanced at the card and then looked up at Percy. 'If you ever bring home another mark like that,' he exploded, 'then you will have me to answer to.' Percy could have died, but from then on he always brought home 100 or something awfully close to it."
The family moved to Green Castle, Indiana when Percy was a teenager. He, like all of the children, studied at DePauw University, then entered their professional careers. Percy Julian's interest was organic chemistry and even thought he graduated at the top of his class (Valedictorian), he was discouraged from serious study in this field. After applying to several leading schools of chemistry, he was shown samplings of the replies by his professor. One in particular registered the feelings of society at that time. It stated, "Discourage your bright colored lad. We couldn't get him a job when he's done, and it'll only mean frustration. Why don't you find him a teaching job in a Negro college in the South? He doesn't need a Ph.D. for that." "Surprisingly," states Emerson, "his father agreed because back in those days chemistry was a field that barred Blacks as a rule-- except for teaching positions at all-Black schools. Father thought the best thing for Percy to do was prepare for medicine and set up practice. It would mean independence. Dad never wanted us to work for anyone."
But Percy insisted that he wanted to be a chemist. He received financial assistance with and Austin Fellowship and he was permitted to enroll at Harvard University, graduating near the top of his class. He received his doctorate (Ph.D.) degree from he University of Vienna, Austria.
For his outstanding accomplishments, Dr. Julian was honored with citations and degrees from nine different universities. He was a trustee of De Pauw, Howard (first Black land grant university in U.S.), and Fist universities, among others , and was also a member of the Illinois Board of Regents. He received the Spingarn Medal of the N.A.A.C.P. (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in 1947. At one time he was president of two companies which he formed to produce his medicines. In 1961, Julian Laboratories was sold to Smith, Kline and French Pharmaceutical Company for several million dollars. He was asked to remain as chief executive of the laboratories.
Prior to Dr. Julian's death, as he struggled for his life, there were thousands of persons suffering from arthritis and glaucoma who were treated with hormones or saved from death by his fire combating chemical, who owed their lives to his outstanding accomplishments. Most never knew of him
Dr. Julian stated his life's purpose this way, "I have had one goal in my life, that of playing some role in making life a little easier for the persons who come after me."
Dr. Julian made his home in Oak Park along with his wife Dr. Anna Julian and their two children, Faith and Percy. The children attended Oak Park Schools.
We salute this brilliant scientist for his many contributions to the peoples of the world. May we as teachers realize, after reading only a minute portion of this great man's life, that we cannot afford to discourage or place limitations on any child. In the mind of that very child, may be a discovery that will change the course of history or cure the world's most dreaded diseases.
Dr. Anna Julian
Dr. Percy Julian's wife, Dr. Anna Julian, was quite a remarkable woman. She was a former sociology professor at Howard University. She served on the Women's Board at the University of Chicago, served two terms as Chairperson of the Board of Trustees at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, served as a member of the Board at Erickson Institute, which is affiliated with Loyola, and many others. She was Nation Chapter Establishment Chairperson for Links Inc., a large National Organization for Black Professional Women. This organization has contributed more than $800,000 to the United Negro College Fund. Even with her busy schedule, she found time to speak on numerous occasions to the school children of Oak Park.
The information here was taken from the following sources:
Ebony Magazine - March 1975
Contemproary Black Biographies - The Instructor Publications, Inc.
Black scientist and Engineers - Afro-American Press
A special thanks to Dr. Anna Julian
Multicultural Education Department
Oak Park Public Schools