Julian, Percy Lavon - Putnam

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Julian, Percy Lavon

(A historical marker located in Greencastle in Putnam County, Indiana.)
Percy Lavon Julian

Born April 11, 1899 in Montgomery Alabama, Percy Julian had a mad desire to learn, and applied to DePauw even though he had not finished but 8th grade (was no further schooling for him in Alabama).  His parents were James Sumner and Elizabeth Adams Julian, and paternal grandfather was a slave.  By 1930, the rest of the rest of the Julian family moved to Greencastle.  His father was a railroad clerk and mother a teacher. Most of his brothers and sisters graduated from DePauw, as well, although the school let few African-Americans in at the time.  He wasn’t allowed to live in one of the college dorms but stayed in an off-campus boarding house but was refused meals there.    Later, he waited tables and fired a furnace at one of the frats, and was allowed to sleep in the attic and eat there.
As a student at DePauw he had the stipulation that he take high school level classes in the evenings to get him better prepared for academics.  Ready?  He did just that and upon graduation from DePauw he was #1 in his class (of 1920) and was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa with honors.  He received a position as chemistry instructor at Fisk University, leaving there in 1923 when he attended Harvard to finish his master’s. He traveled around teaching at Black colleges in the US until obtaining his PhD at the University of Vienna.  Europe did not have the racial prejudice America had and he was free to go to any social gatherings, attend the opera and was overall accepted by all his peers.  He was the 3rd African American to receive his PhD.  
When he returned to the US he taught at Howard and things didn’t go so well.  He was caught up in politics, and a scandal from others publishing his letters from Vienna to them, one even calling a professor an ass.  
Life was low, and William Martin Blanchard, DePauw’s professor of Chemistry who knew the intellect this man carried gave him a job teaching Organic Chemistry at DePauw in 1932.  He studied and worked with chemistry creating much-needed medicinal aides, such as extracting stigmasterol that would be the raw material for “the synthesis of human steroidal hormones.”  

Denied a professorship at DePauw (racial) in 1936, he was refused a job at DuPont (unaware he was a Negro) then the Institute of Paper Chemistry in Appleton, Wisconsin. His wife was suffering from infertility and he wrote to the Glidden Company, to request a five-gallon sample of the oil “to use as his starting point for the synthesis of human steroidal sex hormones.” Besides the sample, he was offered a job, and more research was done with the soy protein.  He was instrumental in creating firefighting foam.  The NAACP awarded Julian the Spingarn Medal, its highest award.  He later worked with progesterone, estrogen and other hormones. He and others working with him obtained patents on the processes to generate such.  Cortisone became popular and he improved the process of producing it.  After 18 years, he left Glidden (salary of nearly $50,000 a year which would be about half a million at this time) to start his own company, Julian Laboratories.  About 1950, Julian moved his family to Chicago (Oak Park area) becoming the first African-American family to live there.  Their home was fire bombed before they moved in.  Another attack in the summer following prompted a community group to support the Julians.  Julian’s business hired excellent chemists, including African-American and women many from Glidden.  His company had much competition from UpJohn and General Mills , Merck and others.  Work with cortisone and other items helped him sell his company (1961) for $2.3 million dollars. In 1964, he began a Research Institute and worked there for the rest of his days, passing away from liver cancer in Waukegan, Illinois April 19, 1975 just having turned 76.  His awards include the Chicago Sun-Times Chicagoan of the year in 1950.  Elected to the National Academy of Science in 1973 (only the 2nd African-American be inducted into the group).  Percy L. Julian Award for Pure and Applied Research in Science and Engineering has been awarded since 1975, by the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists.  Percy L. Julian HS on the south side of Chicago in 1975… and the list goes on but have to list this one – The Science and Math building at DePauw was renamed the Percy L. Julian Mathematics and Science Center in 1980 and there is a Julian Street in Greencastle, as well.  DePauw has the Percy Lavon Julian family papers in their archives.

He married Anna Roselle Johnson in 1935.  They were parents of two children: Percy Jr and Faith.

Sources: Biography.com
Photo and information from Wikipedia

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