Ernest Everett Just

Ernest Everett Just

Ernest Everett Just, Ph.D. studied marine biology and cell fertilization during his career as a scientist.

Ernest Everett Just was born on August 14, 1883 in Charleston, South Carolina.  He was an exceptionally bright child…as a teenager he enrolled in the school that would become South Carolina State College, in Orangeburg, SC.  He eventually studied at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire and then went on to study at Dartmouth College where he graduated magna cum laude in 1907 as a Rufus Choate scholar.

His first job was in teaching at Howard University, in Washington, D.C.  He became the chair of the Department of Zoology, developed a master’s program there and was a professor of Physiology at Howard University’s medical school.  While at Howard, Just helped three young men form the fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, as their faculty advisor—an organization which is still in existence today.

Ernest Everett Just also worked in Woods Hole, Massachusetts in the Marine Biological Laboratory during his summers.  He worked with the well-known scientist, Frank R. Lillie.

Just is known for his studies in cell division, in fertilization, and in the importance of a cell’s surface as it relates to an organism’s development.

One of his most important discoveries was that the surface of an egg (or cell membrane) changes once a sperm’s nucleus enters the egg—thus preventing additional entries into the egg. (Miller and Levine, Prentice Hall Biology, page 1016).

This discovery and his work with marine invertebrate embryos gained him much respect in the scientific community, after his death. 

Some of his additional achievements are that he graduated from the University of Chicago, in 1916, with a doctorate in experimental embryology and that he authored over seventy scientific papers…in addition to the books:  Basic Methods for Experiments on Eggs of Marine Animals and Biology of the Cell Surface.

During his life he visited Naples, Italy to study the fertilization of European sea urchins and received an invitation to work at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, Germany.

Ernest Everett Just became the very first recipient of the NAACP Spingarn Medal (for his research in biology) in 1915 and in 1996, in an effort to remember his achievements, his image was incorporated onto a U.S. postage stamp.

Ernest Everett Just - August 14, 1883 - October 27, 1941

References “Ernest Everett Just: Biologist, Educator, Scientist (1883 - 1941).” Accessed June 04, 2015.

Byrnes, W. Malcolm.  “Ernest Everett Just:  Experimental Biologist Par Excellence.”  ASMB Today (American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology).  Accessed June 4, 2015.

Manning, K. R.  Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1983.

Miller, Kenneth and Levine, Joseph.  Prentice Hall Biology.  Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2004, page 1016.

NAACP.  “Spingarn Award Winners:  1915 to Today.”  Accessed 6-4-2015.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.  “Remembering Dr. Ernest E. Just - zoologist, biologist, physiologist, research scientist.”  Last modified 14 August, 2013.  Accessed 6-4-2015.

Danita Smith