Airs on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 8 p.m.
Being the grandson of Alabama slaves, Percy Julian encountered every possible barrier in a deeply segregated America. He was a man of genius, devotion and determination. Being a black man made him an outsider, and he fought to make a place for himself in a country divided by bigotry. Eventually, however, he would find freedom in the laboratory.
NOVA presents the remarkable life story of Percy Julian — not only one of the great African-American scientists of the 20th century, but an industrialist, self-made millionaire, humanitarian and civil rights pioneer. Julian won worldwide acclaim for his research in chemistry and broke the color barrier in American science more than a decade before Jackie Robinson did so in baseball. He discovered a way to turn soybeans into synthetic steroids on an industrial scale, enabling drugs like cortisone to be widely available to millions. In a special two-hour presentation, NOVA traces the vivid and moving saga of Julian’s dazzling scientific achievements and sometimes stormy personal life. His largely unknown story is brought to life with vivid period re-enactments based on newly accessible family archives and interviews with dozens of colleagues and relatives. Tony Award-winning actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson stars as Julian. Courtney B. Vance narrates.