Since February is Black History month, and since most of us know so little of our shared history I thought I’d do a weekly spot highlighting a important but little known factoid…so here’s on one Percy Julian…
PBS ran a special on him last night (which I didn’t get to see). b. 1899, d. 1975. He was a pioneering chemistwho developed several synthetic drugs and vitamins, including hormones and cortisone. In 1916 he graduated negro normal school and entered DePauw. While working, taking high-school classes to make up for some weaknesses, he did well enough to become their Valedictorian and a member Phi Beta Kappa. He wanted to pursue doctoral work, but was not allowed to since he was black. He had numerous academic positions over his life at Fisk, Howard, WV State. He did get his masters from Harvard and finally a doctorate in 1931, from U. of Vienna, Austria.
Why should you care? If you’ve ever had a cortisone shot, you should thank him. He found a way to create synthetic versions of important drugs that saved individuals from blindness, gave relief from arthritis, and male and female sex hormones (these drugs naturally occur but not in enough quantities to be be mass produced). Though schools declined to have him as their head of department, Glidden Company made him chief chemist in 1936. During that time, he found how useful soy beans and yams were in the creation of these synthetic drugs. He also created a flame retarding foam that was used to save many military lives on ships and planes.
Info. from Africana(1999) ed. by Appiah and Gates.