The Life and Times of Percy Julian

For Teachers

Activity 9A
Fighting Discrimination

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Lesson Overview This activity will help students understand the state of racial relations in the United States in the 1950s by highlighting a particular instance of racial discrimination in the life of Percy Julian, who was affected personally and professionally by segregation laws. Students will read a letter written by Julian to the president of the American Chemical Society in which he questions their apparent support of existing segregation laws. They will consider broader issues of racism and do research on a number of questions.
Learning Objectives Students will be able to reconstruct some of the history of the laws that enforced segregation and the impact of this segregation on U.S. society. Students will be able to understand that “separate but equal” really meant “separate but NOT equal.”
Lesson Concepts
    • The “separate but equal” concept behind the Jim Crow laws
    • The impact of segregation on people in science properties
  • Materials Required
    • The text of Julian’s 1956 letter to the president of the ACS
    • Access to research materials in the library as well as access to the Internet
    Skills Required Basic reading, research skills, and computer skills.
    Time Required In class work will take a minimum of two class periods for reading and taking notes. Additional time will be needed for answering questions and class discussion and presentations.
    Student Ability Level and Grouping

    Middle school students working in pairs.

    1. It might be helpful to the students if you assemble some of the written materials that students could use in their research and reading. Otherwise, the library resources should be made available to students with instruction. You might want to divide the questions among the pairs of students for research, rather have each pair research all the questions.
    2. Percy Julian was affected by racial discrimination and prejudice many times in his life. Here are some examples: 
      • His grandparents were slaves.
      • By the time Julian was 16, there was only one high school for African Americans in the state of Alabama. Blacks were not permitted to attend white public or parochial schools.
      • Julian rode in the “Jim Crow” car on his train trip from Montgomery, Alabama, to Greencastle, Indiana, to attend DePauw University.
      • Julian was not permitted to stay in DePauw dorms or eat in the dining halls there.
      • Despite graduating first in his class at DePauw, the university denied him admission to its graduate programs.
      • In 1935 the faculty at DePauw blocked Julian’s application for a faculty position.
      • In 1936 Julian was turned down for a position at the Institute of Paper Chemistry in Appleton, Wisconsin, because of a town law prohibiting blacks from staying in town overnight.
      • Soon after Julian moved his family to the Chicago suburbs in 1950, their house in Oak Park, Illinois, was fire bombed. A second bombing occurred in 1951.
    Post-activity If you divide the research questions among the students, you could have the students make class presentations on their assigned questions. If the students do not make presentations, you should assemble all the written research work for class discussion.
    Assessment Teacher evaluation of the written research information by the students. Standard rubric used for evaluating written work.
    Student Resources for Further Study See the various links in the student material.

    This activity meets the following National Science Education Standards (Grades 5-8) and Curriculum Standards for Social Studies.

    National Science Education Standards (Grades 5-8)

    Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

    • Science and technology in society

    History and Nature of Science

    • Science as a human endeavor
    • Nature of science
    • History of science

    Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

    • Culture
    • Time, Continuity, and Change
    • People, Places, and Environments
    • Individual Development and Identity
    • Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
    • Power, Authority, and Governance
    • Science, Technology, and Society
    • Global Connections
    • Civic Ideals and Practices

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