The moment participants enter the Percy and Anna Julian exhibit, currently on display at the DuSable Museum of African-American History, 740 E. 56th St. on Chicago’s South Side, they are immediately greeted with the Julian Family Credo.
It reads: “Never pretend to be something you aren’t. Make yourself something to be proud of and then you don’t have to pretend.”
The exhibit, “From Dreams to Determination: The Legacy of doctors Percy and Anna Julian,” highlights the couples’ various accomplishments and accolades while also focusing on one of the first great African American “power couples”.
The exhibit, which runs from Oct. 20-Oct 28, debuted with an opening night ceremony last Friday, attended by friends and associates of the Julians. Also attending was Faith Julian, Anna and Percy Julian’s daughter, who also spoke during the occasion.
The exhibit opening also included a 30-minute preview of the PBS docudrama chronicling Dr. Percy Julian’s life, titled “Forgotten Genius” set to premier on PBS (Channel 11) on Feb. 6.
The DuSable exhibit features, photographs of the couple with their children, Faith and Percy Jr., in the 1960s, including one photograph of the kids bundled up in winter coats.
“I think it is a wonderful exhibit,” said Faith Julian, as she walked through the displays of writings, awards and photographs of her parents.
“Wow, a picture with me and my father – I don’t have many of those,” she said, looking at one picture taken on her wedding day with her father.
There are pictures of Percy and his son at a baseball game (Dr. Julian was a Sox fan). Another photo shows Percy and Anna having dinner in their living room.
In front of a packed auditorium audience, Faith, who still lives in Oak Park, spoke at length about her parents and how pleased she was to see their story brought together so completely.
“This is the first exhibit to honor both my parents as opposed to simply my father, which I especially appreciate,” she said. “In many ways, my dad was a giant of a man-not necessarily physically because he was only 5-9, but in his stature in the eyes of his colleagues. However, never let it be said that he could have achieved as much as he did without my mother, who was both his emotional support and his motivation to even greater accomplishments.
The exhibit’s curator, Charles E. Bethea, consulted history books, the Internet and the Julian family for information.
“Even though Percy is more widely known because of his numerous accomplishments in the laboratory, Anna, who is less known, was no less a pioneer,” Bethea said. “She was the first African-American woman to receive her Ph.D. and the first African-American woman accepted into the Phi Sigma Theta Sorority.”
The exhibit is divided into three central themes: “Early Struggles,” which focuses on the early years of Percy and Anna; “Moving Forward,” covering the primary scientific advancements the couple made during the period 1940-1960; and “Lessons Left Behind,” covering the period in the 1950s when the Julians and their children moved to Oak Park, becoming the town’s first black family.
The exhibit features documents and testimonials from 1920, when Percy Julian graduated from Depauw University as class valedictorian. This particular accomplishment was more impressive given the fact that there were no high school-educated black students beyond the 10th grade in Montgomery, Ala., where Julian grew up. He actually had to take high school and college courses concurrently at DePauw.
Being the only African American in his class was the first of many obstacles he would have to overcome.
“When I was a child, I used to tell my father, ‘Dad, you are so smart.’ He used to tell me, ‘No, I’m not smart. I just work hard,'” said Faith. “He proved that anything is possible through hard work and dedication-and my mother, so willing to relinquish the spotlight to him and let his own accomplishments shine as her own were downplayed. In each other, they found the perfect partner to live out their mutually shared vision of making the world a little better than it was when they entered it.”