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Percy Julian

AKA Percy Lavon Julian

Born: 11-Apr-1899
Birthplace: Montgomery, AL
Died: 19-Apr-1975
Location of death: Waukegan, IL
Cause of death: Cancer - Liver
Remains: Buried, Elm Lawn Cemetery, Elmhurst, IL

Gender: Male
Religion: Christian
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Chemist, Business, Activist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Physostigmine and cortisone

Percy Julian received an eighth grade education in Alabama's public schools, but high school was not an option for blacks. When he was accepted at DePauw University, he had to take remedial high school courses at night while keeping up with his white college classmates. Graduating as class valedictorian, he went on to teach at all-black colleges, but lost his professorship at Howard University after an affair with a colleague's wife. Returning to DePauw, he earned international respect in the school's tiny chemistry department, where Julian and his colleagues synthesized physostigmine, a drug still used to treat glaucoma, skin and kidney disease, and leukemia. The university, however, would not offer him a professorship, due to his race.

He was interviewed at DuPont and numerous other chemical companies, all of which lost interest upon discovering that Julian was black. Instead he became Director of Research at The Glidden Company, a paint manufacturer now part of Imperial Chemical Industries. Supervising white chemists ten years before Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line, he devised methods for using soybean protein to improve water-based paints, and as a central ingredient in the fire retardant Aer-O-Foam. His team at Glidden discovered that soybean protein could be used to make human hormones, and developed a method for manufacturing these hormones in bulk, leading to drugs that prevent miscarriage. He found a new and far more affordable method to synthesize cortisone, a drug that relieves the pain of rheumatoid arthritis and allows much more and easier movement for arthritis patients.

His home in the affluent and previously all-white Chicago suburb of Oak Park was firebombed in 1950, and targeted in an unsuccessful bombing attempt several months later. In his evenings after work in these years, Julian often sat in a tree in his front yard, armed with a shotgun. In 1954 he left Glidden and formed his own Julian Laboratories, hiring as many qualified black chemists as possible, and using yams to synthesize cortisone. In 1961 he sold the company to Smith, Kline and French, a predecessor of GlaxoSmithKline, making him one of the first black millionaires.

Father: James Sumner Julian (railroad mail clerk)
Mother: Elizabeth Lena Adams Julian (school teacher)
Wife: Anna Roselle Johnson Julian (affair while married 1928-29, m. 24-Dec-1935, two children)
Son: Percy Lavon Julian, Jr. (civil rights attorney, b. 1940, d. 2008)
Daughter: Faith Roselle Julian (b. 1944)

    High School: State Normal School for Negroes, Montgomery, AL (1916)
    University: BS Chemistry, DePauw University (1920)
    Teacher: Chemistry, Fisk University (1920-22)
    University: MS Chemistry, Harvard University (1923)
    Teacher: Chemistry, West Virginia State University (1926-27)
    Teacher: Chemistry, Howard University (1927-29)
    University: PhD Chemistry, University of Vienna (1931)
    Professor: Chemistry, Howard University (1931-32)
    Teacher: Chemistry, DePauw University (1932-36)

    Spingarn Medal 1947
    National Inventors Hall of Fame 1990
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    American Chemical Society
    Boy Scouts of America Secretary, Troop 8, Oak Park, IL
    National Academy of Sciences
    NAACP
    New York Academy of Sciences
    Phi Beta Kappa Society
    Rotary International
    Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society
    Urban League
    Imperial Chemical Industries Research Director at Glidden Paint Co. (1936-53)

Appears on postage stamps:
USA, Scott #2746 (29 cents, portrait by Higgins Bond, issued 29-Jan-1993)


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