Ernest Everett Just was born on August 14, 1883, in Charleston, South Carolina. His father Charles Frazier and mother Mary Matthews Just realized that young Ernest was an intelligent student, so they enrolled him into the Kimball Hall Academy in New Hampshire. Once he graduated, he enrolled in courses at Dartmouth College.
After reading a paper on fertilization and egg development in college, Just found an interest in biology. During his freshman year of college, he earned the highest grades in Greek which earned him the Rufus Choate scholarship. He then graduated magna cum laude in 1907–the only student in his class to do so–and received honors in botany, sociology, and history.
Following his graduation, Just began teaching and conducting research at Howard University. Two years later, in 1909, he worked at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts, conducting more research. He then attended the University of Chicago where he studied experimental embryology, earning his Doctor of Philosophy degree.
Just soon became a pioneer in the field of physiology of development. He focused on fertilization, experimental parthenogenesis, hydration, dehydration, and cell division. He also studied the effects of ultraviolet carcinogenic radiation on living cells.
Just later served as an editor for three scholarly periodicals. In 1915, he won the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) first Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement by a Black American. He was then awarded the Julius Rosenwald Fellow in Biology of the National Research Council from 1920-1931.
Just’s fellowship afforded him the opportunity to work in Europe. Where racial discrimination prevented Just from advancing in the U.S., he was not hindered in Europe. He wrote several research papers on biology, including ‘General Cytology’ in 1924 alongside respected scientists from various universities.
In 1940, Just was imprisoned in a German Nazi camp. His second father-in-law (a German man) was able to have him released. He and his second wife soon fled France and ultimately settled in the U.S. Ernest Everett Just later developed pancreatic cancer and died on October 27, 1941, in Washington D.C. He was 58 years old.
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