Soldiers, scientists and statesmen

February 28, 1992|By Scott S. Sheads | Scott S. Sheads,Park ranger, Fort McHenry National Monument * I met Percy Laven Julian at a biomedical conference in New Orleans, where he was the keynote speaker. I was chemistry chairman at Coppin State College. He talked for more than an hour. When he was a young scientist, he told us, he had to prove himself every step of the way. Those were the days when whites viewed a black person through jaundiced eyes. Many a time Dr. Julian had to endure abject humiliation. Hotels refused to admit him, even though they had confirmed his reservation by telephone. After the speech, we invited him to speak in Baltimore. He accepted, and we made the arrangements, but on the day before he was to arrive, Dr. Julian suffered a massive heart attack. He never recovered from it. Dr. Julian's synthesis of the drug physostigmine, used in the treatment of glaucoma, attracted considerable attention in scientific circles, and in the early 1930s he became director of research of the soya product division of the Glidden Co. in Chicago. Some of the products synthesized by Dr. Julian reduced the cost of therapy for many diseases, most notably arthritis. In 1953, he established his own firm, Julian Laboratories Inc., and a sister company, Laboratories Julian de Mexico. He was the author of 162 scientific publications and had 105 patents. He was awarded 15 honorary degrees. Bail L. RaoRetired professor of chemistry, Coppin State College * William Edward Burghardt DuBois and Booker Taliaferro Washington were towering fighters for freedom and equality of opportunity for black Americans. They differed in philosophy and methodology. Booker T. Washington followed the route of accommodation. In an address at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895, Dr. Washington said, "The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremist folly . . ." He was, of course, lionized by white leaders for what came to be known as the "Atlanta Compromise." Dr. DuBois and other black leaders denounced Washington for eschewing political and social equality. He was said to have sold his people out (much as Justice Clarence Thomas was to be accused more than a century later). "The American Negro demands equality," Dr. DuBois said, "political equality, industrial equality and social equality. And he is never going to rest satisfied with anything less. He demands this . . . as an absolute measure of self-defense and the only one that will assure to the darker races their . . . survival on Earth." But on balance, the two men were not that far apart. We know from the work of Louis Harlan, professor of history at the University of Maryland College Park, that Dr. Washington, in his private deliberations and actions, was highly supportive of political and social equality for his fellow black citizens. Our nation owes both of these men an enormous debt. @ Samuel L. BanksExecutive director, Division of Instruction, Baltimore City Public Schools

BLACK HISTORY MONTH concludes Saturday. Here are excerpts from the essays of three Baltimore correspondents on African Americans who made a difference:

No. 203, William Williams. The name is listed with the names of other recruits on the muster roll of the 38th U.S. Infantry. But this recruit was different. William Williams was a 21-year-old runaway slave from Prince George's County.

He was a native Marylander. He had run away from his owner, Benjamin Oden, in the spring of 1814. On April 14, 1814, William Williams was enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army and was

assigned to the 38th U.S. Infantry Regiment. Federal law prohibited the enlistment of slaves because they "could make no valid contract with the government."

But the officer who enlisted Pvt. Williams did not question him. Perhaps he made no inquiries because a reward notice posted by his owner described Pvt. Williams as a "bright mulatto . . . and so fair as to show freckles." Nevertheless, Pvt. Williams received his enlistment bounty of $50 and was paid a private's wage of $8 a month.

In early September 1814, the 38th Infantry was ordered to march from its encampment on Hampstead Hill (Patterson Park) to Fort McHenry to take part in the defense of the city. During the bombardment, Pvt. Williams was stationed in the dry moat, along with 600 of his fellow infantrymen, to repel any attempted landing by the British.

Records indicate that Pvt. Williams was severely wounded, having "his leg blown off by a cannonball." He was taken to a Baltimore hospital, where he died two months later."

He was not the only black man to serve in the U.S. Army at Fort McHenry in 1814. Michael Buzzard enlisted as a private in the U.S. Corps of Artillery, the fort's regular garrison. There were numerous black sailors, and Baltimore also had many skilled free blacks who, as naval mechanics, sailmakers, riggers, carpenters and ship caulkers, helped build naval ships and privateers that ,, would defend Baltimore against the British.


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