Percy Julian, Famed Chemist And Former Maywoodian, Gets Mural In His Honor

Tuesday, July 3, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: A mural going up in Oak Park dedicated to Percy Julian, a former Maywood resident. | Alexa Rogals 

A mural dedicated to Percy Julian, a pioneering African-American research chemist and businessman, is three weeks from completion. It’s going up on the northwest side of the Oak Park middle school that bears his name.

Julian lived in Maywood before moving to Oak Park, where he lived and operated a laboratory.

When he moved to the village in around 1950, his family was one of the first black families to set down roots in Oak Park. Before moving in, though, the Julians’ home was famously fire-bombed twice. The chemist, armed with a shotgun, and his son kept watch over their home, sometimes from a nearby tree.

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The mural, on the side of Percy Julian Middle School in Oak Park, is three weeks from completion. A dedication is scheduled for August. | Alexa Rogals 

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

The mural, which rises to tree-like heights, takes the form of a molecular structure and incorporates features of Julian’s research, such as his groundbreaking synthesis of the soybean molecule.

Van Duinen said the scientific theme anchored the artwork, which also riffs on themes found throughout the chemist’s personal life and work — his persistence despite having his home attacked and his ability to employ other black scientists through his lab, among other things.

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Community members were able to purchase tiles in honor of loved ones to include in the mural. | Alexa Rogals 

A large blue circle just off the ground on the bottom right-hand corner of the mural, is made of dozens of 2-inch and 4-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,” said Tracy Dell’Angela Barber, executive director of the Oak Park Education Foundation, noting that the fundraising helped offset the cost of the camp and the mural installation.

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 community dedication for the artwork is planned for some time in August. VFP 

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