Percy Lavon Julian, the grandson of Alabama slaves, was one of six children born to a railway clerk and his wife. Dr. Julian was born on April 11, 1899 "at the corner of Jeff Davis Avenue and South Oak Street" in Montgomery, Alabama, to James Sumner Julian and Elizabeth Lena Adams.(6) He attended elementary school in Montgomery and graduated in 1916 from the State Normal School for Negroes. After graduation, Dr. Julian enrolled at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, where he became fascinated with chemistry and "studied it long hours in the attic of a fraternity house where he worked as a waiter."(7) Dr. Julian was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi honorary societies at DePauw and graduated in 1920 as the class valedictorian. (8)

      During the period 1920 to 1932, Dr. Julian taught chemistry at three historically Black post-secondary institutions and obtained his masterís degree in chemistry. He was an instructor in chemistry at Fisk University from 1920 to 1922.(9) Dr. Julian won an Austin Fellowship in chemistry to Harvard University in 1923, which enabled him to complete his masterís degree in the same year. He remained at Harvard from 1923 to 1926 as a research fellow in biophysics, the George and Martha Derby scholar in chemistry, and as a university scholar.(10) From 1926 to 1927, Dr. Julian was a "one man department of chemistry" at West Virginia State College, and as previously noted, served as a faculty member at Howard University from 1928 to 1932.(11)

      Dr. Julian returned to DePauw University as a research fellow in chemistry in 1932. During his four-year tenure there, he "conducted research that led to the synthesis and identification of physostigmine, a drug used to treat the eye disease glaucoma.(12) In 1936, Dr. Julian left the academic world to work as a researcher with the Institute of Paper Chemistry in Appleton, Wisconsin.(13) Within a relatively short period, however, he accepted the positions of Director of Research of the Soya Products Division and Manager of Fine Chemicals at the Glidden Company of Chicago. (14) It was during his tenure at the Glidden Company that Dr. Julian accomplished several of his important chemical discoveries. One of his most important discoveries was how to "extract white crystals called sterols from soybean oil."(15) From the sterols, he produced a chemical compound, called Compound S, which could be manufactured " as a synthesis of cortisone for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other ailments."(16)                    


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June 2001