The name “Percy Julian” may not mean much to anyone today, but PBS plans to change that with their re-airing of a docu-drama that tells his life story.
The public broadcasting service announced its science series, NOVA, will re-air “Forgotten Genius,” through the month of February. The docu-drama series focuses on the Alabama-born and bred scientist whose groundbreaking work laid the foundation for the production of life-saving drugs such as cortisone and birth control pills.
Tony-winning actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson (“Billions,” “Castle”) plays Percy Julian in the re-enactments. The New York native said that this role was one of the most rewarding roles of his career.
The ultimate goal of the docu-drama is to show the incredible life of this pioneering scientist, whose work helped modern scientists synthesize medicines from plants. As one of the first Black men in the United States to receive a doctorate in chemistry, Percy Julian received more than 100 patents throughout his professional career.
Despite his amazing work, Julian’s own father — James Julian — was a slave. What’s more, because he grew up during the Jim Crow era in the American South, he frequently recounted childhood memories of finding lynched men hanging from trees on his way to school.
Even though he introduced many life-altering patents as an extremely gifted scientist, he still was met with extreme adversity due to the color of his skin. Julian was forced to pursue his doctorate in chemistry overseas at the University of Vienna because Harvard would not allow him to complete his teaching assistantship due to his race. He later received death threats for living in an exclusive, predominantly-white Chicago neighborhood Oak Park, where his family home was eventually firebombed.
Today, however, Percy Julian is recognized as one of the United States’ most influential scientists. His research on plant-derived hormones advanced industrial-scale production and led to the development of medicinal drugs such as cortisone, steroids, and birth control pills.
The docu-drama “Forgotten Genius” is airing now on PBS.