May 1991

Dr. Ernest Everett Just

Biologist

Dr. Ernest Everett Just

Epidemics of diphtheria and cholera were pervasive in Charleston, South Carolina in the winter of 1883. They greatly affected the poor masses who could not receive adequate health care. Ernest Just’s two older siblings died from the diseases. He, a baby not yet four months, was somehow spared. His parents, Charles Fraser Just and Mary Matthew Just were among those who did not have adequate health care. Ernest Just was born on August 13, 1883. He attended the Colored Normal Industrial Agricultural and Mechanics College at Orangeburg (now South Carolina State College) at the age of 13. In three years he received his Licentiate of Instruction which enabled him to teach in Black schools in South Carolina. Just later studied at Kimball Union Academy in new Hampshire and graduated from Dartmouth College. During his junior year at Dartmouth, he was given the highest academic award for an undergraduate, The Rufus Chaote Scholar. His records in English and Biological Sciences were outstanding. He was a founding member pf Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. Just’s first job was at Howard University where he initially taught English. He soon joined the Department of Biology and Geology, where he excelled as a Zoology instructor. He greatly inspired his students and became one of the leading biologists in the United States. In 1913, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People gave Dr. Just its first Spingarn Award. The honor is given annually to an African-American who has had exceptional achievement in his or her field. At this time, Dr. Just was engaged in pioneering research on fertilization in marine invertebrates and the role of the cell surface in the development of such organisms. His studies demonstrated that all segments of a cell influence the cell’s activity. Ernest Everett Just received his doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1916. A dedicated scientist, he spent almost every summer, from 1909-1930, conducting research at the Marine Biological laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Dr. Just left the United States in 1931 and lived in Europe. It was difficult for him to live and work in the US because of racial discrimination in science laboratories. In 1939 he wrote two books. His first, The Biology of the Cell Surface, was dedicated to his mother who greatly influenced his formative years while she taught school on James Island, South Carolina. His biographer, Dr. Kenneth R. Manning refers to Dr. Just as the “Black Apollo of Science.” Indeed, he was! His life showed that exploration of the scientific world is one of the many options available for today’s young people. Dr. Just died in 1941.