Dr. Ernest E. Just
His Adolescent Years
In the 1900s, Ernest Just took a train to New York with only $5.00 in his pocket and an extra pair of shoes. He worked in a restaurant there for a while to save enough money to go to Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire. Ernest Just was the only black person in a school of 150 students, yet he seemed to adapt to this new lifestyle. At Kimball Union Academy, he joined the debate team and served as editor-in-chief of the newspaper.
Charles Just, Jr., Ernest Just’s father, was reported to be an alcoholic. Ernest Just was named after his grandfather who was very distinguished. They came from a family of entrepreneurs. Ernest Just’s mother was very industrious. She worked in phosphate mines and taught “hat making” and “dress making” to support her children.
His Personal/Professional Goals
Ernest Just pushed himself to be the best that he could be. He particularly sought to make his mother proud, even after she passed away. He lived through the reconstruction period following the Civil War, World War I, the depression and the beginning of World War II.
At the age of 13, Ernest Just went to what is now South Carolina State University. Then it was called the Colored National Industrial Agricultural and Mechanical College. He continued his education at Dartmouth, where he again was the only black student in his freshman class of nearly 300 young men. Ernest Just minored in Greek and history while majoring in biology. He became deeply engrossed in anatomy and the physiology of the nervous system and in the studies of sense organs. He had terrific grades….one of the top 6 students in his class. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude, the only member of his graduating class at Dartmouth so honored. Through a special program, Ernest Just attended the University of Chicago to earn his PhD in a shorter time than the usual 3 years that it normally took.
Ernest Just could have easily become a physician but he decided not to pursue that career. He wanted to do research and deal with the great question of what is life and what is our origin. He studied tiny cells to try to determine what sets the living apart from the non-living. Most Black college graduates were faced with only two or three choices (to teach, preach or to go into the funeral home business). Just accepted an offer to teach at Howard and started out teaching English literature and writing – stressing the importance of communications. His real passion and his real love was zoology, the study of all types of animal life. He looked at their life history, physiology, embryology, and their structures. He eventually taught science exclusively, but also made time to start a drama club and in 1911 served as faculty advisor of a new fraternity that eventually became nationally known as the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
You can learn more about the life and legacy of Ernest Everett Just
by reading the book:
“The Black Apollo of Science” by Dr. Kenneth Manning.