The Life and Science of Percy Julian
Activities and Readings
9A (Activity)

Fighting Discrimination

Percy Julian faced a lot of racial prejudice in his life. The prejudice came in many different forms. In this activity you will read a letter written by Percy Julian himself. Julian wrote the letter to the president of the American Chemical Society (ACS), a national organization made up of chemists.

In 1956 the ACS held its national meeting in Dallas, Texas. When Julian signed up to attend the meeting, the ACS sent him an information packet. They sent this packet to everyone who planned to attend. In the packet was a list of hotels in Dallas where people could stay while they were attending the meeting. Actually, there were two lists. There was a list of hotels for white people and another list of hotels “for Colored People.”

Read the text of Julian’s letter and find out what his reaction was to this list.
Percy Julian’s 1956 letter to the ACS (text only)

If you want to see Julian’s actual letter (on Julian Laboratories stationery with his signature), then click on the link below.
Percy Julian’s 1956 letter to the ACS (a picture of the actual letter)

Questions

After reading the letter, answer the following questions. You may have to do some research to answer a few of the questions.

1. At the time Julian wrote his letter, it was legal for a hotel to let only white people stay there. This kind of segregation was allowed because of an idea known as “separate but equal.” That is, segregation, or the separation of the races, was legal as long as the hotels (or schools or trains) for African Americans were just as good as those for white people. What important Supreme Court case established the idea of “separate but equal,” and when did the case occur?

Resources

On this site: The Segregated South: From Slavery to Jim Crow

See also: http://www.landmarkcases.org/plessy/impact_separate_equal.html

2. State laws limited the rights of African Americans from the time of the Civil War until after World War II. What name was given to laws like these? What were some examples of these laws?

Resources

On this site: The Segregated South: From Slavery to Jim Crow

See also:

http://www.jimcrowhistory.org/resources/lessonplans/hs_es_jim_crow_laws.htm

3. Julian seems to call for a boycott of future ACS meetings if they are held in places that support “separate but equal” facilities. A famous boycott of segregated city buses took place in December 1955. This was just two months before Julian wrote his letter. Where did this boycott take place? Who was the main leader of the boycott?

Resources

On this site: Breaking Racial Barriers: 1946–1956

See also: http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/encyclopedia/bus_boycott.html

4. In 1954 segregation was banned by the U.S. Supreme Court when the Court settled the case of Brown v. Board of Education. If segregation was banned in 1954, why do you think there were still segregated hotels in 1956?

Resources

http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6330/

5. What does Julian mean when he talks about “these critical days of our country’s relationships with the rest of the world”? What was the cold war and which countries were involved in it?

Resources

http://www.pjhealy.com/coldwar/foreign.html

6 A. Some scientists believe that science is amoral. They believe it is concerned with the “isness” and not the “oughtness” of things. Julian speaks about “isness” and “oughtness” in his letter. What do you think is meant by “isness” versus “oughtness”? What does amoral mean? Do you think that Julian believed that science is amoral?

B. Julian served on a committee that was asked to consider moral issues related to the atomic bomb, particularly with respect to scientists and their role in developing the bomb. Some of Julian’s colleagues felt strongly that the scientific search for truth should not be limited by moral issues. Others felt differently. What do you think? What do you think Julian’s position was? A clue may be found in something he said in a 1973 lecture: “Science is a man-made discipline, and I fail to see how we may separate a man-made discipline from man himself, and thereby from the yearnings and destiny of man. . . . Science should not be assessed on the basis of its contribution of mere material things. Our contribution should be found instead in our devotion to the concept of an ordered natural world in which we live.”

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