NAACP Emblem at the 46th NAACP Image Awards

Did You Know the First Ever NAACP Spingarn Medal Was Awarded on This Day?

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This Day In History: February 2nd

The NAACP bestows its highest honor, the Spingarn Medal, to individuals with an array of notable achievements. Ernest Everett Just was the first person to ever be awarded the Spingarn Medal following its inception in 1914. 

Former NAACP Chairman of the Board of Directors, Joel E. Spingarn, established the award with the aim of honoring the achievements of African-Americans and inspiring the youth. The first selection committee members included John Hope and John Hurst Adams. Just was awarded the prestigious medal on February 2, 1915, after developing a reputation for being an expert biologist and conducting numerous studies on fertilization, cell division and the function of chromosomes in marine eggs.

Just was born on August 14, 1883, in Charleston, South Carolina. He was a gifted student and enrolled at Dartmouth College as a biology major in 1903. His academic abilities provided him with the opportunity to be a Rufus Choate scholar for two years. He had just ended his undergraduate experience as the only magna cum laude student in his class when he graduated in 1907. 

Following his graduation, Just began his career as a teacher and researcher at Howard University and he also worked at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts. While working at Howard, he became a founding member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He continued his education at the University of Chicago where he earned his doctoral degree. During his time at the university, Just studied experimental embryology, and once again, the scholar graduated magna cum laude. 

Over the course of his career, he published more than seventy scientific articles and two books titled, “Breeding habits of the heteronereis form of Nereis limbata at Woods Hole, Mass.” (1913) and “The Biology of the Cell Surface” (1939). He also served as a Julius Rosenwald Fellow for more than 10 years. His studies even took him abroad to places such as Italy, Germany and France. 

While living in Germany, Just was taken as a prisoner of war after the Nazis invaded, but he was released in 1940. By this time, his health was also declining and he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, 

Ernest Everett Just died on October 27, 1941, in Washington, D.C.

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