The Life and Times of Percy Julian
Elder Statesman in the Civil Rights Era: 1962-1975

Influence and Honors

By the 1960s, many people saw Percy Julian as an “elder statesman” in both the African American and scientific communities.

He supported the civil rights movement, even though he didn’t always agree with its most prominent leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. Like many older African Americans, Julian thought younger people like King were trying to achieve too much too fast, and he did not like the militancy of Malcolm X and his followers. Even so, he supported the movement by participating in NAACP activities, including their Legal Defense and Education Fund, which paid for court challenges to segregation.

In 1968 Julian won the Chemical Pioneer Award, a very high honor given by the American Institute of Chemists. In 1973 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors a scientist in the United States can receive. Click to go to Activity.

Percy Julian died in 1975. In his life he made important discoveries, overcame racial barriers, built a large business, and turned laboratory chemistry into real products that helped real people. Julian’s life is interesting not just because of what he did, but also because he had to overcome so much to do it. His life shows how hard work and determination can overcome seemingly unbeatable odds.

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