Mural dedication nears for groundbreaking scientist Percy Julian

Saturday, August 18, 2018
The mural, on the side of Percy Julian Middle School in Oak Park, Ill., is days from completion. A dedication is scheduled for later this month.
Courtesy photo

OAK PARK, Ill. -- A mural dedicated to groundbreaking chemist and 1920 DePauw University graduate Percy Lavon Julian is reportedly days from completion as it goes up on the northwest side of the Oak Park middle school that bears his name.

The mural is expected to be completely in place in the Chicago suburb this month.

The founder of research laboratories in the United States, Mexico and Guatemala, Julian was a member of DePauw’s Board of Trustees, and was the first recipient of the university’s McNaughton Medal for meritorious public service. He also received an honorary degree from his alma mater in 1947.

He died April 19, 1975 in Waukegan, Ill.

The university’s Percy Lavon Julian Science and Mathematics Center -- where a bust of Dr. Julian greets visitors -- stands as a tribute to the famed chemist.

Elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1973, Julian received 19 honorary doctorates and in 1990 was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In 1993, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in Dr. Julian’s honor.

When Julian moved to the village of Oak Park, just west of Chicago, from the suburb of Maywood around 1950, his family was one of the first black families to set down roots there. Twice before moving in, the Julian home was famously fire-bombed. Armed with a shotgun, the chemist and his son kept watch over their home, sometimes from a nearby tree, local history notes.

The mural takes the form of a molecular structure, incorporating features of Julian’s research, such as his groundbreaking synthesis of the soybean molecule.

While the scientific theme anchored the artwork, it also includes themes found throughout the chemist’s personal life and work, including his persistence despite having his home attacked and his ability to employ other black scientists through his lab.

Prominent muralist and educator Tracy Van Duinen facilitated installation of the mural, along with local students and participants in a summer camp provided by the Oak Park Education Foundation.

A large blue circle just off the ground on the bottom right corner of the mural, is composed of dozens of two-inch and four-inch blue tiles, which community members could purchase for $50 and $100, respectively, and carved with tributes to loved ones.

“We raised $10,350 — all in $50 and $100 tiles,” Tracy Dell’Angela Barber, executive director of the Oak Park Education Foundation, said.

Meanwhile, Van Duinen said the Julian mural is mostly complete. Some parts still need to be grouted and there’s still a bit of touching up to do. He expects the mural to be totally finished in about three weeks. A dedication for the artwork is planned for some time in August.

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