Biographical Sketch – E. E. Just

Dr. Ernest Everett Just is one of our most prominent American scientists. Just, an African American, became distinguished for his research in cell and developmental biology in the early 1900’s. His path-breaking experiments established what factors were required for successful fertilization and development of the ovum. A biography of his life was written by Dr. Kenneth Manning of MIT entitled the Black Apollo of Science. Dr. Manning points out how Dr. Just and his work were better accepted in Europe, where his ethnicity was not an issue, than in the United States. Unfortunately, his work fell into obscurity due to a lack of acceptance of his experimental findings, which now are heralded as phenomenal discoveries.

Dr. E.E. Just was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1883. He was an outstanding student at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire and in 1907 graduated magna cum laude from Dartmouth College in Biology. In 1912, Just became head of the Biology Department at Howard University. Also, he headed Howard’s Department of Physiology and was a faculty member of the School of Medicine. While an Associate Professor at Howard, he took a sabbatical leave to earn a Ph.D. working with Dr. Frank Lillie at the University of Chicago and at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole in Massachusetts. While there, Dr. Just became known as a “genius in the design of experiments” as he worked on the fertilization and breeding habits of marine worms. He completed his degree in 1917.

Through his faculty appointments at Howard University, his research in the U.S. and abroad, along with his involvement at Woods Hole, Just devoted his whole professional life to teaching and research. He became the authority of his time on embryology, predicting explanations of the fertilization process that only recent technology has been able to demonstrate. Despite racial barriers and the political climate of scientific thought, he published over 70 articles on fertilization. Ernest Just died in 1942 of pancreatic cancer. It was unfortunate that his remarkable achievements had not been more widely known and appreciated while he was alive.