AfricanAmerican Men of History: Percy Lavon Julian
African American History – Percy Lavon Julian Made a Difference
You may never have heard the name Percy Lavon Julian, but chances are you or someone in your life has been positively touched by his discovery. Percy Lavon Julian was a brilliant African-American chemist who worked extensively with soybeans. The results of Percy Lavon Julian's research resulted in the ability to produce synthetic cortisone, progesterone, and testosterone from soy protein.
Percy Lavon Julian made the treatment of arthritis and other inflammatory diseases affordable because cortisone no longer had to be extracted from animals.
African American History – Julian's Challenges for being black
Percy's intellect, drive, and character made his research possible. He was born an African-American male in Montgomery, Alabama in 1899. There was little chance of Percy Lavon Julian getting an education in Alabama in the late 1800's or early 1900's.
Julian's parents were determined that he receive an education, regardless of the cost. They were both educated and his grandfather had two fingers cut off by his master for learning to read and write. With determination Percy Lavon Julian was accepted at the University of Indiana in 1921. Due to the inadequate education provided African-Americans at the time, Percy enrolled in remedial classes. Due to his innate brilliance, he was at the top of his class by the time he graduated.
Obstacles arose again when Percy Lavon Julian decided to pursue his Ph.D. in chemistry. American Universities were not open to African-Americans. Percy Lavon Julian taught at an African-American University in Nashville, Tennessee. His work as a researcher did not go unnoticed. Two years later Harvard offered him a fellowship to earn his master's degree. Once again, the African-American excelled.
African American History – Perseverence is the only way
Julian wasn't prepared to quit. He had research goals and he was determined to reach them. He enrolled for his Ph.D. in Vienna, Austria, where universities were more open to black students.
It was there that he began his study of soybeans. Julian discovered how to synthesize physostigmine, which is used in the treatment of glaucoma.
African American History – American Manufacturing, not Academia Give Black Man a Break
Because he was African-American, Percy Lavon Julian continued to be denied academic positions he deserved. His break came when he was hired by Glidden manufacturing where he lead laboratory research. It was there that he continued his research on soybeans creating synthetic hormones and steroids from soybean protein that help prevent miscarriages, reduce pain and inflammation, and prevent cancer.
His breakthrough in the synthesis of cortisone led this African-American man to become widely recognized as one of the most brilliant research scientists of his time. He was awarded the Spingarn Award from the NAACP.
Percy Lavon Julian continually excelled academically among his white peers, proving that intellect knows no color boundaries. It was his mind and determination that allowed Percy Lavon Julian to break through the color barrier to make contributions that make our world a better place.