Black Inventors and Innovators - Percy Lavon Julian
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.