Percy Julian: Creating a Foundation for African Americans

May 3, 2010
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Percy Julian inspired many people and paved the way for all black scientists. He achieved a lot throughout his entire life, despite the difficulties he faced because of his race. He came up with cures for leukemia, rheumatoid arthritis, and many other diseases. Even without sufficient primary schooling, he was one of the most intelligent chemists in the world. Not only did he earn scientific achievements, but he also earned achievements in business. At first, he was not respected because of his ethnicity, but soon became more appreciated for his accomplishments in the medical and chemical field. He was an inspiration for many black scientists today, and proved that it was possible for an African American to be successful in life. He showed people that black people are just as important in society as white people.

Scientifically, Julian achieved many things. He developed medicines for many sicknesses and found inexpensive ways to cure them. First of all, he became Director of Research at the Glidden Company. There, he learned that soybean protein could be used to make human hormones. He also learned a way to synthesize cortisone out of soybeans. In 1954, Percy Julian left the Glidden Company to pursue a career starting his own research in Julian Laboratories (“Percy Julian”). Julian Laboratories specialized in synthesizing cortisone from soybeans. Cortisone was a special medicine used to cure rheumatoid arthritis, but it was usually very expensive. Thanks to Percy Julian, the soybean substitute for cortisone was much less expensive. Therefore, it became a very popular and useful medicine for arthritis. He was awarded the Austin Fellowship in Chemistry, a prestigious award. He also became a professor of chemistry at Howard University in Washington, D.C., an all-black college (“Black Inventor Online Museum”).

His scientific achievements are outstanding and extremely inspiring towards aspiring black scientists.

Along with his scientific achievements, Percy Julian also acquired many business achievements. As I said before, he started his own business, Julian Laboratories, where he synthesized cortisone from soybeans. He hired as many black scientists as he could to work at Julian Laboratories. This was to show that black people deserved to also have the right to work in a laboratory as a scientist. He sold Julian Laboratories to a large pharmaceutical company, giving him $2.3 million in profit. He became one of the first African American men to become a millionaire (“Percy Julian”). Soybeans were not the only way to come up with a substitute to cortisone. Yams were also used to create it, which are most commonly found in Mexico. To make the supply of wild yams more convenient, he opened Laboratorios Julian de Mexico in Mexico City. He received a Ph.D. in 1931 after a long time of working on it. He also received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP, another extremely prestigious award (“Black Inventor Online Museum”). His business achievements, along with his scientific achievements, were outstanding.

Becoming a billionaire chemist was not easy for Percy Julian, especially since he was African American. Being black was not easy in the 1940s, but especially so for Percy Julian. He attended high school at State Normal School for Negroes, a school reserved for black students. It was a very low-quality school, so Percy Julian did not get a quality education. He attended DePauw University, where he took high school classes at night in order to keep up with his white classmates. The Dean of the university,

William Blanchard, acted as his mentor in Julian’s undergraduate years (“Percy Lavon Julian”). He was discouraged from going to graduate school because of his race, but attended anyway only to receive all A’s and in the top of his class. After he graduated from college, he applied for many jobs at companies in which he could become a chemist. He was not accepted anywhere because of his race. They thought that it would discourage the other white workers from doing their job if a black man was present (“Percy Julian”). He then applied to many mixed race schools as a professor, but was not accepted because the schools were afraid that having a black professor would be a bad influence on the students. He did receive a job at Howard University in Washington, D.C., an all-black college. When he lived in Chicago, his house was set afire by neighbors who did not want a black man living on their street, yet he was named “Chicagoan of the Year” (“Black Inventor Online Museum”). Despite all of these challenges, Percy Julian still managed to succeed.

In conclusion, Percy Julian paved the way for all of the future black scientists and chemists. His life consisted of scientific and business accomplishments. Not only that, but he did that with the pressures of being African American with extremely limited rights. He won several awards for his findings on cortisone and the ways in which it can be produced in a much less expensive fashion using yams or soybeans. He faced many challenges because of the color of his skin and his lack of proper primary education. He wanted more than anything to prove that African Americans could achieve just as much as white people could. Percy Julian’s accomplishments serve as an inspiration for many.

Works Cited

“Black Inventor Online Museum.” [Online] Available

pages/percyjulian.html, 2009.

“Percy Julian.” [Online] Available, 2009.

“Percy Lavon Julian.” [Online] Available
landmarks/plj/plj_depauw.html, 2007.

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