In a rare philatelic tribute to a scientist, a new 29-cent U.S. stamp commemorates the late black chemist Percy Lavon Julian. The stamp, released for nationwide sale on Jan. 30, puts Julian in the company of W. E. B. Du Bois, Sojourner Truth, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King Jr., and others honored in the U.S. Postal Service’s black heritage commemorative series.
Julian’s story is one of a grandson of slaves who overcame prejudice, blatant job discrimination, and two bombings of his home to become a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs, an industrial research manager—and eventually a millionaire entrepreneur.
"He was the first black research director of any chemical concern of note," says emeritus chemistry professor Donald J. Cook of DePauw University, Greencastle, Ind., Julian’s alma mater. "In fact, I would call him the first black research chemist that America turned out."
Among Julian’s most significant scientific accomplishments were the first total synthesis of the glaucoma drug physostigmine, the discovery of an economical way to produce sex hormones from soybean oil, and the development of a low-cost synthetic method for making a form of the antiarthritis drug cortisone.
Black Chemist Percy Julian Commemorated on Postage Stamp: Julian overcame prejudice, discrimination, and violence to become first major black research chemist in U.S. and millionaire entrepreneur