Just, Ernest Everett (1883-1941) was an internationally known American biologist, zoologist, and physiologist who made major contributions to the field of biology through his pioneering research into fertilization, experimental parthenogenesis, and cell physiology.
Born into a poor family in Charleston, South Carolina, Just overcame barriers of race and poverty to be admitted into Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire, where he finished a four-year high school curriculum in only three years and graduated valedictorian. He then won a scholarship to Dartmouth College and again excelled scholastically. He graduated with a B.A. degree in 1907, having majored in biology and minored in Greek and history, and was the only magna cum laude student in his class.
After graduating, Just took a teaching position at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and, beginning in 1909, spent 20 summers at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Through the meticulous research he conducted there, Just became known as a leading authority on the embryology of marine animals. In 1915, he was the first recipient of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) Spingarn Medal, awarded to men and women of African descent who have made outstanding achievements in their fields.
Taking a temporary leave from his position at Howard, Just entered the University of Chicago and, in 1916, was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. degree in experimental embryology, again graduating magna cum laude.
Despite his increasingly distinguished career, his significant contributions in the area of the physiology of development, and the numerous papers he began to publish on fertilization and experimental parthenogenesis, Just struggled against racial barriers. Starting in 1929, he spent most of his time conducting research in Germany, France, and Italy. Europe remained the center of his activity until the German occupation of France in 1940.
Upon returning home, Just resumed his position at Howard University, which he retained until his death in 1941.