Percy Julian was one of the great scientists of the 20th century. In a chemistry career spanning four decades, he made many valuable discoveries, for which he was awarded dozens of patents, 18 honorary degrees, and membership to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences—only the second African American bestowed such an honor.
Yet Julian’s achievements as a trailblazer for Black chemists, while less well-known, are no less remarkable. Growing up when racial discrimination factored into every aspect of life for Blacks in America, from riding a bus to getting a job, Julian persevered to realize his dreams. And when he finally “arrived” as a successful chemist and businessman, he did not lose sight of the challenges that fellow Blacks still faced. He became a mentor to scores of young black chemists and, later in life, an inspiration for thousands as a civil-rights leader and speaker.
As the late Vernon Jarrett, one of the nation’s leading commentators on race relations, put it, “This man is Exhibit A of determination and never giving up. I think he’s a role model not only for blacks but for all races.”
Percy Julian… a brilliant scientist and civil rights trailblazer.
— Brad Rieger (@BradRieger) January 31, 2021