Percy Lavon Julian (April 11, 1899 – April 19, 1975) was an American research chemist and a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. He was the first to synthesize the natural product physostigmine and was a pioneer in the industrial large-scale chemical synthesis of the human hormones progesterone and testosterone from plant sterols such as stigmasterol and sitosterol. His work laid the foundation for the steroid drug industry’s production of cortisone, other corticosteroids, and birth control pills.
He later started his own company to synthesize steroid intermediates from the wild Mexican yam. His work helped greatly reduce the cost of steroid intermediates to large multinational pharmaceutical companies, helping to significantly expand the use of several important drugs.
Julian is a “part of a small group” of African-American Inventors and Scientists; he received more than 130 chemical patents. He was one of the first African Americans to receive a doctorate in chemistry. He was the first African-American chemist inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, and the second African-American scientist inducted (after David Blackwell) from any field.
Oak Park and Julian Laboratories
Around 1950, Julian moved his family to the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, becoming the first African-American family to reside there. Although some residents welcomed them, there was also opposition. Before they moved in, on Thanksgiving Day, 1950, their home was fire-bombed. Later, after they moved in, the house was attacked with dynamite on June 12, 1951. The attacks galvanized the community, and a community group was formed to support the Julians. Julian’s son later recounted that during these times, he and his father often kept watch over the family’s property by sitting in a tree with a shotgun.
Julian’s new research firm, Julian Laboratories, Inc., hired many of his best chemists, including African-Americans and women, from Glidden. He won a contract to provide Upjohn with $2 million worth of progesterone (equivalent to $17 million today). To compete against Syntex, he would have to use the same Mexican yam, obtained from the Mexican barbasco trade, as his starting material. Julian used his own money and borrowed from friends to build a processing plant in Mexico, but he could not get a permit from the government to harvest the yams. Abraham Zlotnik, a former Jewish University of Vienna classmate whom Julian had helped escape from the Holocaust, led a search to find a new yam source in Guatemala for the company.
In July 1956, Julian and executives of two other American companies trying to enter the Mexican steroid intermediates market appeared before a U.S. Senate subcommittee. They testified that Syntex was using undue influence to monopolize access to the Mexican yam. The hearings resulted in Syntex signing a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department. While it did not admit to restraining trade, it promised not to do so in the future. Within five years, large American multinational pharmaceutical companies had acquired all six producers of steroid intermediates in Mexico, four of which had been Mexican-owned.
Syntex reduced the cost of steroid intermediates more than 250-fold over twelve years, from $80 per gram in 1943 to $0.31 per gram in 1955. Competition from Upjohn and General Mills, which had together made very substantial improvements in the production of progesterone from stigmasterol, forced the price of Mexican progesterone down to less than $0.15 per gram in 1957. The price continued to fall, bottoming out at $0.08 per gram in 1968.
In 1958, Upjohn purchased 6,900 kg of progesterone from Syntex at $0.135 per gram, 6,201 kg of progesterone from Searle (who had acquired Pesa) at $0.143 per gram, 5,150 kg of progesterone from Julian Laboratories at $0.14 per gram, and 1,925 kg of progesterone from General Mills (who had acquired Protex) at $0.142 per gram.
Despite continually falling bulk prices of steroid intermediates, an oligopoly of large American multinational pharmaceutical companies kept the wholesale prices of corticosteroid drugs fixed and unchanged into the 1960s. Cortisone was fixed at $5.48 per gram from 1954, hydrocortisone at $7.99 per gram from 1954, and prednisone at $35.80 per gram from 1956. Merck and Roussel Uclaf concentrated on improving the production of corticosteroids from cattle bile acids. In 1960 Roussel produced almost one-third of the world’s corticosteroids from bile acids.
Julian Laboratories chemists found a way to quadruple the yield on a product on which they were barely breaking even. Julian reduced their price per kg for the product from $4,000 to $400. He sold the company in 1961 for $2.3 million (equivalent to $20 million today). The U.S. and Mexico facilities were purchased by Smith Kline, and Julian’s chemical plant in Guatemala was purchased by Upjohn.
In 1964, Julian founded Julian Associates and Julian Research Institute, which he managed for the rest of his life.
Julian died of liver cancer in Waukegan, Illinois on April 19, 1975, a week after his 76th birthday.
Honors and legacy
- In 1947, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.
- In 1950, the Chicago Sun-Times named Percy Julian the Chicagoan of the Year.
- He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1973 in recognition of his scientific achievements. He became the second African American to be inducted, after David Blackwell.
- Since 1975, the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers has presented the Percy L. Julian Award for Pure and Applied Research in Science and Engineering.
- In 1975, Percy L. Julian High School was opened on the south side of Chicago, Illinois as a Chicago public high school.
- In 1980, the science and mathematics building on the DePauw University campus was rededicated as the Percy L. Julian Mathematics and Science Center. In Greencastle, Indiana, where DePauw is located, a street was named after Julian.
- In 1985, Hawthorne School in Oak Park, Illinois, was renamed Percy Julian Middle School.
- Illinois State University, where Julian served on the board of trustees, named a hall after him.
- A structure at Coppin State University is named the Percy Julian Science Building.
- In 1990, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
- In 1993 Julian was honored on a stamp issued by the United States Postal Service.
- In 1999, the American Chemical Society recognized Julian’s synthesis of physostigmine as a National Historic Chemical Landmark.
- In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Percy Lavon Julian on his list of 100 Greatest African-Americans.
- In 2011, the qualifying exam preparation committee at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine was named for Percy Julian.
- In 2014, Google honored him with a Doodle.
- In 2019, asteroid 5622 Percyjulian, discovered by Eleanor Helin at Palomar Observatory in 1990, was named in his memory. The naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center on 27 August 2019 (M.P.C. 115893).
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Martin Luther King Jr. (born Michael King Jr.; January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an African American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the American civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968.
Martin Luther King, Jr., (January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968) was born Michael Luther King, Jr., but later had his name changed to Martin. His grandfather began the family’s long tenure as pastors of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, serving from 1914 to 1931; his father has served from then until the present, and from 1960 until his death Martin Luther acted as co-pastor. Martin Luther attended segregated public schools in Georgia, graduating from high school at the age of fifteen; he received the B. A. degree in 1948 from Morehouse College, a distinguished Negro institution of Atlanta from which both his father and grandfather had graduated. After three years of theological study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania where he was elected president of a predominantly white senior class, he was awarded the B.D. in 1951. With a fellowship won at Crozer, he enrolled in graduate studies at Boston University, completing his residence for the doctorate in 1953 and receiving the degree in 1955. In Boston he met and married Coretta Scott, a young woman of uncommon intellectual and artistic attainments. Two sons and two daughters were born into the family.
In 1954, Martin Luther King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Always a strong worker for civil rights for members of his race, King was, by this time, a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the leading organization of its kind in the nation. He was ready, then, early in December, 1955, to accept the leadership of the first great Negro nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States, the bus boycott described by Gunnar Jahn in his presentation speech in honor of the laureate. The boycott lasted 382 days. On December 21, 1956, after the Supreme Court of the United States had declared unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on buses, Negroes and whites rode the buses as equals. During these days of boycott, King was arrested, his home was bombed, he was subjected to personal abuse, but at the same time he emerged as a Negro leader of the first rank.
In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. The ideals for this organization he took from Christianity; its operational techniques from Gandhi. In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles. In these years, he led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the entire world, providing what he called a coalition of conscience. and inspiring his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, a manifesto of the Negro revolution; he planned the drives in Alabama for the registration of Negroes as voters; he directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, “l Have a Dream”, he conferred with President John F. Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson; he was arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times; he was awarded five honorary degrees; was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963; and became not only the symbolic leader of American blacks but also a world figure.
At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.
On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.
Adams, Russell, Great Negroes Past and Present, pp. 106-107. Chicago, Afro-Am Publishing Co., 1963.
Bennett, Lerone, Jr., What Manner of Man: A Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Chicago, Johnson, 1964.
I Have a Dream: The Story of Martin Luther King in Text and Pictures. New York, Time Life Books, 1968.
King, Martin Luther, Jr., The Measure of a Man. Philadelphia. The Christian Education Press, 1959. Two devotional addresses.
King, Martin Luther, Jr., Strength to Love. New York, Harper & Row, 1963. Sixteen sermons and one essay entitled “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence.”
King, Martin Luther, Jr., Stride toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. New York, Harper, 1958.
King, Martin Luther, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience. New York, Harper & Row, 1968.
King, Martin Luther, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? New York, Harper & Row, 1967.
King, Martin Luther, Jr., Why We Can’t Wait. New York, Harper & Row, 1963.
“Man of the Year”, Time, 83 (January 3, 1964) 13-16; 25-27.
“Martin Luther King, Jr.”, in Current Biography Yearbook 1965, ed. by Charles Moritz, pp. 220-223. New York, H.W. Wilson.
Reddick, Lawrence D., Crusader without Violence: A Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York, Harper, 1959.
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.
* Note from Nobelprize.org: This biography uses the word “Negro”. Even though this word today is considered inappropriate, the biography is published in its original version in view of keeping it as a historical document.