Percy L. Julian: Changing the face of science

CMA 6

Willie Pearson Jr., willie.pearson@hts.gatech.edu, School of History, Technology, and Society, Georgia Institute of Technology, 685 Cherry St., Atlanta, GA 30332-0345
The paper examines the life and career of Percy L. Julian focusing on his contributions to science, in the context of a highly racialized (segregated) United States during the 1920s-1960s. Specifically, the paper locates Julian as a member of racial minority group that was often stereotyped as incapable of conducting leading edge science. This stereotype was frequently reinforced by the small numbers of African Americans who held earned doctorates in science. Julian played a significant role in dismantling the stereotype by becoming a successful industrial chemist and entrepreneur. This was not without considerable struggle, sacrifice and firsthand experiences with racism. Julian's scientific career as well as his views on American apartheid set him apart from many of his Black peers in the scientific community. Despite significant contributions to science and civil rights, Percy L. Julian remains a relatively invisible figure in the history and sociology of science; the paper explores some of the possible reasons for the neglect. Finally, the paper presents a brief review of the status of African American Phd scientists since Julian's death.