Two of the most significant and unheralded figures in African-American history, scientists and humanitarians Percy and Anna Julian, will finally be recognized together at the DuSable Museum of African-American History in an exhibit running this month.
The exhibit, “From Dreams to Determination: The Legacy of doctors Percy and Anna Julian” highlights the accomplishments of two lives that have become obscure footnote in American history. This is the first and only known exhibit honoring both of their lives.
Running from Friday Oct. 20 through Oct. 28 at the museum, 740 E. 56th Place, the exhibit shows the Julians efforts in many aspects of civil rights and medical advances.
Organized by the DuSable Museum and curator Charles E. Bethea, “From Dreams to Determination” features photographs of the couple with their children in the 1960s, as well as documents and testimonials from 1920, when Percy Julian graduated Depau was class valedictorian despite not being allowed to join any of the school’s all white fraternities.
“The museum has been working on the exhibit at least since last December, and they have put a lot of work into it,” said Faith Julian, daughter of the Julians.
Along with contributing several honorary awards obtained by her father to the exhibit, Faith Julian will also speak at the Oct. 20, premiere, scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
The exhibit is divided into three central themes: “Early Struggles”, focuses on the early years of Percy and Anna, and their experiences in exclusively white universities in the ’20s. This exhibit captures the early events leading up to their first meeting. Percy Julian met Anna while he was a professor at Howard while she was attending the University of Pennsylvania.
“Moving Forward” covers the primary advancements the couple made during the period between 1940-1960 where their impact was mostly greatly felt. Following his graduation from Depauw University in Indiana, Percy Julian took his degree in chemistry and valedictorian credentials to Harvard University and the University of Vienna. There, he received his master’s and doctoral degrees.
In the 1940s, Percy Julian made many medical discoveries. Among his most important was his creation of the chemical known as “Compound S,” an equally effective but more cost efficient alternative at the time to the drug Cortisone used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
He created the drug using soybean byproducts, which he discovered could be used for several purposes, such as in vitamins, hormonal drugs, paint, paper and amino acids. He patented many of these items, along with one for the synthesis of physostigimine, used to treat glaucoma.
Like her husband, Anna Julian was a sociology professor at Howard University. She also served on the Woman’s Board at the University of Chicago, and served two terms as chair of the Board of Trustees at Dominican University in River Forest.
“Lessons Left Behind” is perhaps the exhibit most relevant to those unfamiliar with the couple’s story. The couple and their children moved to Oak Park in 1950 to a home at the corner of East and Chicago Avenues.
Unbeknownst to them at the time, they would become symbols for the integration of Oak Park as the first black family to move into the town. They fought against constant intimidation from some in the town who did not share their vision of an integrated Oak Park.
However, despite dealing with several incidents of racially-motivated violence in the Village, including their home being set on fire twice, the Julian’s stance on segregation and equal rights struck a chord with many Oak Parkers. A bronze bust of Mr. Julian is displayed in the Village’s Scoville Park in remembrance.
Their daughter Faith and other descendents still live in Oak Park.
“I spoke at the 22nd annual American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisc this past September 11th,” said Faith. “They had held a one-day symposium in honor of my dad and several people spoke about his contributions and their experiences with him.”
The DuSable Museum on Friday will also premier clips from the PBS documentary chronicling Percy Julian’s life. The entire film, “Forgotten Genius”, will debut on PBS’s NOVA science series in February.
For more information on the exhibit, call 773/947-0600 or visit www.dusablemuseum.org.