Akosua Report: Percy Julian

“…may I humbly submit to you, the only thing that has enabled me to do the creative work, was the constant determination: Take Heart: Go Farther On.”

Percy Julian

April 19, 1975: Percy Lavon Julian, research chemist and pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants, died. Julian was born April 11, 1899 in Montgomery, Alabama. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from DePauw University in 1920, Phi Beta Kappa and valedictorian and became a chemistry professor at Fisk University. In 1923, Julian earned his Master of Arts degree from Harvard University but because they were worried that white students would resent being taught by an African American, Harvard withdrew his teaching assistantship.

Julian earned his Ph. D. from the University of Vienna and while in Europe found freedom from the racial prejudices that stifled him in the United States. After returning to the U. S. and being denied a professorship at DePauw for racial reasons, in 1936 Julian became Director of Research for Glidden Company where he worked until 1953. That year, he founded Julian Laboratories, Inc. which he sold in 1961 for $2.3 million. During his career, Julian received more than 130 chemical patents and his work was the foundation for the steroid drug industry’s production of cortisone and birth control pills. In 1947, Julian was awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal and in 1973 he was the second African American elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Julian was one of the first African-Americans to receive a doctorate in chemistry. He was the first African-American chemist inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, and the second African-American scientist inducted from any field.

The Akosua Report: Facts on The African Diaspora, is written by Akosua Lowery. Follow her on Twitter @AkosuaLowery.

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