Black History Month has always been important to me, but the last decade or so, the importance of it has become so LOUD in my home, that I look forward to it yearly. We celebrate the history of our ancestors all year long, but we REALLY amp it up in the month of February to give it that extra oomph. If you haven’t been paying attention lately, the US is in a bit of bind with race relations. It helps nothing to ignore it, but if you learn why folks are in arms about the fact that it’s the TWENTY-FIRST centur and people of color STILL have to demand respect, then maybe you can help rectify the situation. Godspeed.
This month, I’m choosing to share authors, artists, athletes, & activists with you. Today, we’re sharing Dr. Percy Lavon Julian who was a chemist who was a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs such as cortisone, steroids and birth control pills. Y’all, he is important to this movement in so many ways right now. With some many fighting over rights for women to control their own bodies, it’s only right that we feature someone who helped find ways for some to regulate their menstrual cycles and alleviate pain because of uterine issues. Yeah. Birth control pills aren’t only taken to prevent pregnancy. Sometimes they are taken so that women CAN GET PREGNANT in the future, but I digress.
Born April 11, 1899 in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. Percy Julian had a passion for education. Back then, he wasn’t allowed to attend high school, because they weren’t allowing black students to attend, so he reached higher. He applied to Depauw University in Indiana, where he was accepted. He took high school level classes in the evening, until was college ready, where he eventually graduated FIRST in his class. He received a Masters degree from Harvard Univeristy and his Ph.D from the University of Vienna in Austria. His research led to the synthesis of several drugs, and he’s lauded as one of the most important chemists in American history.
Make no mistake, just because he was incredibly smart, he still wasn’t allowed full rights over his peers, or even those less intelligent than him. With all of the research and advancements that he lead, DePauw wouldn’t allow him to have full rights as a professor because he was black.
He went on to gain national acclaim, and was the first black chemist elected to the National Academy of the Sciences. He’s also in the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and much more.
He and his wife lived in Oak Park, Illinois (WOOT ILLINOIS) where they were the focus of some hate crimes, but didn’t let it scare them into moving. Right now, if you drive down Washington Boulevard in Oak Park, you’ll see Percy Julian Middle School, and on the south side of Chicago, we have Percy L. Julian High School, known as Julian by Chicago natives. He’s represented well enough in this area.
Why is he an activist?
Because I said so. If that’s not enough to move you, it’s because he used chemistry to advance the movement of black scientists into the future. He didn’t take no for an answer, and he didn’t make anyone else feel less than if they didn’t have bootstraps to pull themselves up by. He used his natural inquisitiveness to propel him to be one of the most important chemist this world has known. If you don’t believe me, check out what he did with soybeans.
For the rest of the month, we’ll feature activists in science, education, theater, politics, television, and everyday heroes. Some you may know, others you may just learn about for the first time. All will make an impact on you.