African-American Pioneers in Science

Ernest Everett Just (1883 - 1941)

Ernest Everett Just Photo

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons



Charleston, South Carolina


B.A., Dartmouth College
Ph.D. Embryology, University of Chicago

  • Ernest Everett Just
  • African-American pioneer in biology, embryology and cytology
  • Made pioneering contributions to cytology and embryology of marine organisms
  • First recipient of NAACP Spingarn Medal

Biologist Ernest Everett Just was born in Charleston, South Carolina on August 14, 1883. His father, Charles, was a carpenter and dock builder and mother, Mary, a teacher. At age 4, his father died and the family moved to James Island - located off the South Carolina coast. Early on as a child, he was educated by his mother. He proved to be an outstanding student and at 15 left South Carolina to attend the prestigious Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire. Just completed the four year program at Kimball in three years, graduating in 1903 with honors and as class valedictorian. He then entered Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. At Darmouth, Just developed and interest in biology and cytology (study of cells) in particular. In 1907 he graduated from Dartmouth magna cum laude with degrees in history and biology.

Shortly after graduating from Dartmouth, Just, like many African-American scientists at that time, due to discrimination, was unable to secure an academic position at a major (white) university. Instead, he accepted a teaching position at (historically black) Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1912 he was appointed Department head of Zoology at Howard - a position he would hold until his death in 1941. While at Howard, Just met professor and well known embryologist Dr. Frank R. Lillie who invited him to be his research assistant at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Under the mentorship of Dr Lillie and on temporary leave from Howard, Just left for Chicago and in 1916 earned his Ph.D. in Embryology from the University of Chicago

For the next 20 years, Dr. Just spent his summers at MBL conducting hundreds of experiments relating to the mechanics of marine mammal cell fertilization and conducting research in cytology and embryology. Out of this research, Dr. Just published his first book "Basic Methods for Experiments on Eggs of Marine Mammals" in 1922.

In 1930, still frustrated by discrimination, Dr. Just left Howard University for Europe and for the next ten years conducted research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, Germany, the Stazione Zoologica institute in Naples, Italy and the Sorbonne in Paris - at the time, three of the top European research facilities in his field. While in Europe, Dr. Just published his second book "The Biology of the Cell Surface", in 1939.

During his career, Dr. Just wrote dozens of scientific articles that appeared in trade journals such as "American Journal of Physiology", "American Naturalist", "Science" and many others. His pioneering work in marine organism cytology earned him international acclaim as a respected scientist and a recognized expert in his field