11A (Writing Activity)
What Is Success?
Julian tried to write his autobiography, but he never finished it. In the manuscript, he wrote, “I have done only a small fraction of the things that I have wanted to do in life.”
Do you think Percy Julian was a success? Look at the following list of some of the things he achieved. Some of his accomplishments were personal, some were professional, and some were related to the fact that he was an African American. Still others were awards bestowed on him.
Your assignment: Which of these do you think gave Julian the greatest feelings of success? That is, which accomplishments do you think were most important to him? Pick one or two. If this were a list of your achievements, which would be most important to you? Write a one-page essay that answers these questions and explains why you feel that way.
The Achievements of Percy Julian: A Summary
- Earned a bachelor’s degree from DePauw University in 1920, graduating Phi Beta Kappa.
- Earned a master’s degree from Harvard University in 1923.
- Earned a doctoral degree in chemistry from the University of Vienna in 1931.
- Invented andpatented a way to synthesize physostigmine; also proved that his method of synthesizing the compound was the correct one, and not the one proposed by the better-known British chemist Robert Robinson.
- Discovered a soy protein that was made into a fire-fighting foam that saved thousands of lives in World War II.
- Found a way to synthesize cortisone that made the medicine readily available.
- Held 119 chemical patents.
Business and Financial Achievements
- Was the first African American to head a research lab at a major chemical company, Glidden Company Soya Division.
- Founded and owned his own very successful chemical research company, which he sold in 1961 for more than $2 million.
- Involved in civil rights causes; worked with the Legal Defense and Education Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to raise funds to fight discrimination with lawsuits.
Personal and Family Achievements
- Was married to his wife Anna for 40 years at the time of his death in 1975.
- With his wife, raised two successful children, both of them college graduates; also raised a cousin, who came to the Julian family at age seven.
Recognition by Others
- Was awarded 19 honorary degrees, from schools like DePauw, Howard University, Morehouse College, Northwestern University, and Michigan State University.
- Won the Spingarn Medal in 1947, the highest honor given by the NAACP, in recognition of his achievements as an African American. (Other recipients have included George Washington Carver, Thurgood Marshall, Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, and Colin Powell.)
- Was honored by Oak Park, Illinois, which erected a bronze bust of him in one of its public parks.
- Was memorialized by a school named in his memory in Oak Park, Illinois.
- Had a U.S. postage stamp issued in his honor.
- Was named Chicago Man of the Year by The Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1950.