WHENEVER PERCY JULIAN TOLD his friends about his life, and how he had overcome all the obstacles from his beginning as the grandson of a slave, born "at the corner of Jeff Davis Avenue and South Oak Street in Montgomery, Alabama, the Capital in the cradle of the confederacy,"1 to scientist, inventor, business leader, humanist, protagonist of human rights, he liked to illustrate this long arduous climb by Donald Adams' The Seventh Fold:
My dear friends, who daily climb uncertain hills in the countries of their minds, hills that have to do with the future of our country and of our children, may I humbly submit to you, the only thing that has enabled me to keep doing the creative work, was the constant determination: Take heart! Go farther on!2 This imperative, go on!, characterizes not only his life but his research, where each answer created at least two new questions and led to the exponential growth of science as Percy experienced it in his lifetime. With this growth, he later realized the concomitant responsibility and questions of ethics.
Percy Julian was born on April 11, 1899, the oldest of six children of James Sumner Julian, a railway mail clerk, and his wife, Elizabeth Lena Adams. Since 1976 his birthday has been a holiday for the Village of Oak Park, a fashionable suburb of Chicago where the Julian family has resided since 1950, initially under precarious conditions (the Julian home, the first in the neighborhood to be owned by a black family, was the victim of arsonists on Thanksgiving Day, 1950, and the target of a dynamite bomb on June 12, 1951), and where other famous people, such as Ernest Hemingway and Frank Lloyd Wright, had their residences. Because Percy's father was a federal employee, the family held a higher status than most blacks of that day. This advantage, and the fact that his well-read father had a great love for mathematics and philosophy, helped him on the way to a formal education.
Clearly, his must have...
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