Ernest Everett Just. Wikimedia Commons.
Ernest Everett Just (1883-1941)
Renowned African American scientist (Marine Biologist) from Charleston, SC. Just earned a doctorate in zoology from the University of Chicago in 1916 and established himself as an authority on fertilization. By 1928, Just was undertaking research at such prestigious institutions as the Stazione Zoologica in Italy, the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institut für Biologie in Germany, and the Station Biologique in France. In 1939, Just published Biology of the Cell Surface, a synthesis of much of his life’s work, and Basic Methods for Experiments on Eggs of Marine Animals, a book of experimental advice.
His early education was in a small, segregated school operated by his mother on James Island, the Frederick Deming, Jr. Industrial School. At age twelve, Just enrolled in the teacher training program at the Colored Normal, Industrial, Agricultural and Mechanical College of South Carolina in Orangeburg.
Graduating in 1899, Just left South Carolina to attend the Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire. With diligence, and aided by scholarships, Just enrolled at Dartmouth College, from which he graduated magna cum laude in 1907. As an African American, Just had little opportunity to pursue a career in science. Instead he joined the faculty of Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he taught English, biology, and zoology.
In 1909 he was invited to the prestigious Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where he served as a research assistant. Publishing his first paper in 1912 and receiving the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s first Springarn Medal in recognition of his scientific work and “service to his race.”
Just faced racism throughout his life, even with growing international recognition of his work and publications—especially in Europe. Together with frustration and bitterness, no scientific appointments were made available to Just. Of his situation, he once observed, “You see, I have a profession, but no position.” Nevertheless, between 1919 and 1928, he published no fewer than thirty-five scientific articles, primarily on fertilization.
Just died of pancreatic cancer in Washington, D.C., on October 27, 1941. The distinguished psychiatrist Ben Karpman wrote of his friend’s passing: “Professor Just’s life was the struggle of a soul in pain. Optimism and frustration struggled within him, and optimism lost.”
Manning, Kenneth R. Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Wynes, Charles E. “Ernest Everett Just: Marine Biologist, Man Extraordinaire.” Southern Studies 33 (spring 1984): 60–70.
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