DuSable exhibit highlights Julian 'power couple'

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By ROBERT FELTON

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, titled "From Dreams to Determination: The Legacy of doctors Percy and Anna Julian," highlights the couples' various accomplishments and accolades and focuses on two lives that have become obscure footnotes in American history.

The exhibit is curated by Charles E. Bethea, who has consulted history books, the Internet and the Julian family for information on one of the first great African-American "power couples."

"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. 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," said Bethea.

The 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. There are documents and testimonials from 1920, when Percy Julian graduated from Depauw University as class valedictorian-this in spite of the fact that 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. The exhibit is divided into three central themes: "Early Struggles," which focuses on the early years of Percy and Anna, their experiences as African Americans in virtually all-white universities in the '20s. This exhibit encapsulates all the early events leading up to their first meeting.

"Moving Forward," covers the primary advancements the couple made during the period 1940-1960 where their impact was most greatly felt. Following his graduation from Depauw, Percy Julian took his valedictorian credentials to Harvard University and the University of Vienna, where he received his master's degree and doctorate respectively.

There is a black and white shot of Percy Julian mixing chemicals in beakers and conversing with chemistry colleagues about his findings following an experiment. Behind a glass case, Julian's lab coat is on display, still retaining its ivory shade.

In the 1940s, Dr. Julian made many medical breakthroughs. Among his most important was the creation of the chemical known as "Compound S," an equally effective but more cost-efficient alternative to the drug Cortisone, used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and many other ailments.

He created the drug using soybean byproducts which he would discover could be used for several alternative purposes, such as vitamins, hormonal drugs, paint, paper, and amino acids. Percy also created a modern fire extinguishing product called "Aero-foam," used for extinguishing oil and gas fires on naval ships during WWII, which the military used to save hundreds of lives.

He patented many of these items along with the synthesis of physostigimine, used to treat glaucoma.

Dr. Anna Julian, meanwhile, became a professor at Howard University, where she taught sociologyaand also served on the Woman's Board at the University of Chicago and two terms as chairperson of the Dominican University Board of Trustees in River Forest. Anna was also asked by the British Ambassador to the U.S., Nicholas Henderson, to serve on the advisory council of the Marshall Scholarship Program in Great Britain.

"Lessons Left Behind," is the part of the exhibit most relevant to those unfamiliar with the couple's story. In 1950 the Julians moved to Oak Park-to a home at the corner of East and Chicago avenues.

They would become precursors for the integration of Oak Park, becoming the first black family to move to town since the 1930s.

Someone poured kerosene on the floor of their house and left a lit candle in an attempt to start a fire. Fortunately, the kerosene was of such poor quality, it didn't burn. The incident struck a chord with many Oak Park residents who rose up to support the Julian's right to live here without the constant threat of racially-motivated retaliation.

"I think it is a wonderful exhibit," said daughter 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 noting one taken on her wedding day with her father.

There are also pictures of Percy and his son at a baseball game (Dr. Julian was a Sox fan) and 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.

"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.' 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."

The exhibit opening also included a 30-minute preview of the upcoming PBS docudrama chronicling Dr. Percy Julian's life, titled "Forgotten Genius." Actor Reuben Santiago Hudson plays the chemist in the film, which will focus on his many accomplishments.

The film, produced by NOVA, features interviews with Percy Julian Jr., who at one point, in regard to the threats made on their house in Oak Park when he was only 10, says, "I got a chance to spend a lot of time with my father. We could not get help from the local police, so dad and I sometimes stood vigilant outside or at the window." The film is narrated by Courtney Vance and will premier on PBS (Channel 11) on Feb. 6.

The DuSable Museum is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on the Museum and its programs call 773/947-0600 or visit the website at www.dusablemuseum.org.

 

DuSable exhibit highlights Julian 'power couple'

By ROBERT FELTON

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, titled "From Dreams to Determination: The Legacy of doctors Percy and Anna Julian," highlights the couples' various accomplishments and accolades and focuses on two lives that have become obscure footnotes in American history.

The exhibit is curated by Charles E. Bethea, who has consulted history books, the Internet and the Julian family for information on one of the first great African-American "power couples."

"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. 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," said Bethea.

The 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. There are documents and testimonials from 1920, when Percy Julian graduated from Depauw University as class valedictorian-this in spite of the fact that 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. The exhibit is divided into three central themes: "Early Struggles," which focuses on the early years of Percy and Anna, their experiences as African Americans in virtually all-white universities in the '20s. This exhibit encapsulates all the early events leading up to their first meeting.

"Moving Forward," covers the primary advancements the couple made during the period 1940-1960 where their impact was most greatly felt. Following his graduation from Depauw, Percy Julian took his valedictorian credentials to Harvard University and the University of Vienna, where he received his master's degree and doctorate respectively.

There is a black and white shot of Percy Julian mixing chemicals in beakers and conversing with chemistry colleagues about his findings following an experiment. Behind a glass case, Julian's lab coat is on display, still retaining its ivory shade.

In the 1940s, Dr. Julian made many medical breakthroughs. Among his most important was the creation of the chemical known as "Compound S," an equally effective but more cost-efficient alternative to the drug Cortisone, used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and many other ailments.

He created the drug using soybean byproducts which he would discover could be used for several alternative purposes, such as vitamins, hormonal drugs, paint, paper, and amino acids. Percy also created a modern fire extinguishing product called "Aero-foam," used for extinguishing oil and gas fires on naval ships during WWII, which the military used to save hundreds of lives.

He patented many of these items along with the synthesis of physostigimine, used to treat glaucoma.

Dr. Anna Julian, meanwhile, became a professor at Howard University, where she taught sociologyaand also served on the Woman's Board at the University of Chicago and two terms as chairperson of the Dominican University Board of Trustees in River Forest. Anna was also asked by the British Ambassador to the U.S., Nicholas Henderson, to serve on the advisory council of the Marshall Scholarship Program in Great Britain.

"Lessons Left Behind," is the part of the exhibit most relevant to those unfamiliar with the couple's story. In 1950 the Julians moved to Oak Park-to a home at the corner of East and Chicago avenues.

They would become precursors for the integration of Oak Park, becoming the first black family to move to town since the 1930s.

Someone poured kerosene on the floor of their house and left a lit candle in an attempt to start a fire. Fortunately, the kerosene was of such poor quality, it didn't burn. The incident struck a chord with many Oak Park residents who rose up to support the Julian's right to live here without the constant threat of racially-motivated retaliation.

"I think it is a wonderful exhibit," said daughter 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 noting one taken on her wedding day with her father.

There are also pictures of Percy and his son at a baseball game (Dr. Julian was a Sox fan) and 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.

"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.' 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."

The exhibit opening also included a 30-minute preview of the upcoming PBS docudrama chronicling Dr. Percy Julian's life, titled "Forgotten Genius." Actor Reuben Santiago Hudson plays the chemist in the film, which will focus on his many accomplishments.

The film, produced by NOVA, features interviews with Percy Julian Jr., who at one point, in regard to the threats made on their house in Oak Park when he was only 10, says, "I got a chance to spend a lot of time with my father. We could not get help from the local police, so dad and I sometimes stood vigilant outside or at the window." The film is narrated by Courtney Vance and will premier on PBS (Channel 11) on Feb. 6.

The DuSable Museum is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on the Museum and its programs call 773/947-0600 or visit the website at www.dusablemuseum.org.

 

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