In 1950, Percy Julian was one of the few African Americans who had a Ph.D. He was Chicago’s man of the year and for good reason, he was a groundbreaking scientist. However, Percy did not have an easy road, he was the grandson of Alabama slaves and was met with every barrier possible with regards to living in a deeply segregated America.
Denied teaching positions and the target of many death threats, Julian struggled to get ahead in life but he was at the core a man of genius, devotion and determination. It was these traits which allowed him to find freedom, freedom in the laboratory, it was here that he became a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. He was the first to synthesise a chemical compound, and his work would laid the foundation for the steroid drug industry.
In this two hour NOVA special we learn how Julian revolutionised chemistry and how he overcame all obstacles to become a world class scientist, a self-made millionaire, and a civil-rights pioneer.