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Black Inventors and Innovators - Percy Lavon Julian

Updated on February 16, 2011


The second Black inventor/innovator in this series is chemist Percy Lavon Julian.  Julian was born April 11, 1899 in Montgomery, Alabama and died April 19, 1975 of Liver Cancer in Waukegan, Illinois.  

Percy Lavon Julian was the grandson of a slave whose parents were adamant about their children being educated.  Julian received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from DePauwUniversity, his master’s degree in chemistry from Harvard and his PhD from the University of Vienna, Austria. Julian was one of the first African Americans to receive a doctorate degree in chemistry. Julian was met with adversity at every stage of his life because he was Black and still kept persevering.  Julian overcame many obstacles as a Black man to be successful.

Julian was a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. As a chemist Julian found a way to make cortisone out of plants, which helped to cut the cost of important medicines.  The real cortisone was extremely expensive and only rich people could afford it. With Julian’s discovery of the soy-based substitute, millions of sufferers around the world found relief at a reasonable price. Julian’s work would lay the foundation for the production of corticosteroids and birth control pills. Cortisone is now widely used to treat common ailments such as arthritis, asthma and allergies. Julian developed a way to inexpensively develop hormones from soy beans. These hormones would help to prevent miscarriages in pregnant women and would be used to fight cancer and other ailments. This was only some of the things that Julian was able to do. Over the course of Julian’s career he acquired over 100 patents and created several companies to further his innovations. 
After years of struggling for respect in his field Julian was finally recognized as a genius and pioneer in his field. Julian received countless awards and honors and was asked to serve on numerous commission and advisory boards.  Julian is now known worldwide as a trailblazer, both in the world of chemistry and as an advocate for the plight of Black scientists.

Having eczema I am thankful to Percy Lavon Julian for his tenacity and perseverance in his work with cortisone. Without the cortisone creams that are readily available I would definitely suffer severely from my ailments.  


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    • Triplet Mom profile image

      Triplet Mom 6 years ago from West Coast

      I never knew either pmccray and you are so right!! Thanks for the vote and your comments!

    • pmccray profile image

      pmccray 6 years ago from Utah

      I never knew. This is exactly why this month long celebration is needed . it is a month full of knowledge. Very well done. Voted up, marked useful.

    • Triplet Mom profile image

      Triplet Mom 6 years ago from West Coast

      Thank you so much Hello Hello! Yes they should get the recognition they deserve.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

      I am glad you are doing this because should have far more recognition. It is disgraceful for intellengent people to discriminate because they are black. My highest respect to you.

    • Triplet Mom profile image

      Triplet Mom 6 years ago from West Coast

      BkCreative - Thank you so much for your comments! I would have loved to have seen this docu drama about his life. What I read about him was shocking, his experiences with not being able to study, work or live because he was black were heartbreaking. It is amazing that he still continued to strive no matter the obstacle.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Last year I saw the most amazing docu-movie drama about Percy Julian. Prior to that I had never heard of him. The film showed how even with all his degrees, companies would not hire him - so eventually he opened his own firm in Mexico - where he hired top notch scientist who were also Black and some were women.

      When he bought his magnificent home in a so-called upscale neighborhood where educated and successful lived - it did not stop the lynch mobs from showing up with guns and trying to burn his home down. He had enough sense to arm himself. These situations are often made light of - getting a sentence or two in an article, when in fact they have been the loss of major towns, industries, companies and thousands of lives. It is so savage, that we prefer to keep rewriting and dismissing this part of history.

      As a former teacher, I do try to bring inclusive history to the classroom - but try and find it. If it is about an African-American, the great stories are often written minus a photo.

      Truly, there is still a need for Black History month - or we would not be forced to share this history. Yet when you hear about the accomplishments of people like Percy Juilan you often read about one accomplishment - but when you delve further there are hundreds, and often the foundations for industry today - like his contributions at the Glidden Paint company.

      Thanks for this hub. Rated up.

    • Triplet Mom profile image

      Triplet Mom 6 years ago from West Coast

      Thank you DeBorrah!

    • DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

      DeBorrah K Ogans 6 years ago

      Triplet Mom, Wonderful informative hub! Percy Lavon Julian most certainly made marvelous contributions to help improve the health of many others...

      Thank you for sharing, In His Love, Grace, Peace & Blessings!