Tuesday, February 12, 2008

African-American Scientists: Earnest Everett Just

February is Black History Month. It is a time for us to remember the sacrifices made by African American forefathers in building America, and the contributions they have made, and continue to make, toward making our nation great. When we think of those contributions, too many of us focus on the famous stereotypes: singers, sports stars, social and equal-rights figures, great though they are, but too often forgotten are those who contributed in the other fields. It is in this vein that I feature on this blog, each February, historical and contemporary African American Scientists.

Earnest Everett Just was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1883. His mother was a teacher, and thus knew full well the importance of a good education and the challenges facing African Americans to get an excellent education at that time. At 13, he was sent north, to New Hampshire, to attend a college preparatory school, Kimball Academy. He finished in only three years (instead of four) and graduated class valedictorian. He went on to Dartmouth College, specializing in cell biology studies, earning degrees in biology and history. Again, he was class valedictorian, as well as magna cum laude. Next he went to Howard University, where he eventually became the head of the Department of Zoology, and stayed until his retirement, except for a brief period during which he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

Dr. Just's greatest contribution to science resonates even to my own career, studying live-cell physiology. Just believed in the radical notion of studying cells as close as possible to their natural state, looking at the whole, living cell rather than breaking it up into its component parts. He became well known for his studies of marine mammal reproduction and fertilization events, as well as cell division, parthenogenesis, effects of UV radiation on chromosome number, and studying the role of the cell surface in its overall physiological state, much of which took place at the Marine Biology Lab at Woods Hole (one of several marine science centers set up over a hundred years ago). Like me, microscopy was his chosen mode of observation.

Increasingly frustrated with the racial prejudice in the United States, Just studied abroad starting in 1929, eventually studying in Italy, Germany, and France.

In 1940, Just was briefly a prisoner of war when Germany invaded France. The U.S. State Department negotiated his release, but he grew ill just before being captured, worsened during the imprisonment, and never fully recovered. He died of pancreatic cancer in October of 1941. He was survived by his wife and three children.

Here are some additional resources about the life and accomplishments of Earnest Everett Just:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Everett_Just

http://esperstamps.org/h19.htm

http://web2.ccpl.org/prvEmployees/HTML/scienceproject/ScienceWalk/Ernest%20Everett%20Just.html

http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0775692.html

http://www.blackinventor.com/pages/ernestjust.html


Picture taken from HERE.

21 comments:

R. Lee Gordon said...

UniTee Design, Inc (UDI), an ethnic empowerment enterprise with offices in Detroit, Atlanta and New York plans to celebrate Black history every day, 365 days a year, as a way to promote the education of Black youth to their rich heritage and the many achievements of African-Americans.

The “Make Black History Every Day – 365” initiative will be featured daily on www.uniteedesign.com, where daily motivational quotes, photos and stories will be featured honoring Black history to educate and inspire children (and adults) every day of the year.

UDI Founder R. Lee Gordon funds, develops and delivers educational programs that motivate children to want to learn and succeed by leveraging their common interests in video games, music, sports, fashion, etc. Current programs include a self-defense and safety awareness workshop for grade school students, a summer camp that teaches creative arts and merchandising to inner-city youth, and a high school fashion career development program.

Gordon generates revenue for these and other programs by selling designer T-shirts that bear the red, black and green colors of African-American culture. Several of the stylish shirts also incorporate positive principles that Black culture represents: a “pride” in heritage and history; the “power to overcome negative circumstances and / or environments; and, a “purpose” he believes every child needs to inspire love of self, and to flourish to his or her fullest potential. Gordon also encourages youth (and adults) to serve one another and their communities as “Purpose Providers, advocates who further instill pride of Black culture.

“We need to uplift our young generation through knowledge of their culture and develop opportunities to better their academic and professional successes,” says Gordon. “Our clothing helps them, and all of us, to appreciate and be proud of our culture and history.”

Gordon has designed a new tee-shirt incorporating the “365” theme which he plans to promote at live events throughout the country.

In addition to developing a student outreach program with Eastern Michigan University that will forge partnerships between colleges and not-for-profit community agencies, UDI is establishing a national peer mentor initiative to match college students with high school students, and high school students with grade school students, and empower Black youth to strive for and achieve higher education goals that will result in improved academic and professional outcomes.

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