#2. The Man Who Invented Half of What's in Your Medicine Cabinet
In general, our relationship with scientists and innovators is pretty hit-and-miss. You'll get the occasional superstar scientist (Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan), and there are other researchers or inventors whom most people know for what they invented (Edison, Bell, Tesla, Turing), but the vast majority of the things we use every day were created by people whose names we never bothered to learn. When we hear a song on the radio we like, we immediately want to know more about the band, but did you ever get curious about the guy or lady who gave you aspirin? Or your drip coffee maker? Or your cell phone?
Or your crack pipe?
Well, the difference between the guys you've heard of and the guys you haven't usually comes down to personality. Which brings us to Percy Julian.
If you've ever used birth-control pills, or had asthma, arthritis, hemorrhoids, eczema, allergies, chronic lung illness, cancer or weak little baby muscles, you can thank Percy Julian for inventing steroids. It was one of the most crucial advancements in modern medicine -- there probably isn't a single person reading this who hasn't been treated with a steroid at some point.
"You're welcome, douchebags."
Way back in 1940, Julian figured out how to isolate the hormones progesterone, estrogen and testosterone from soybean oil, which was a huge deal. Up until that point, scientists had only taken tiny steps in figuring out what to do with these hormones, since they only had a miniscule amount to work with.
Now Percy Julian was synthesizing $10,000 worth of sex hormones a day, and the effect on the world was profound: Within a few years, one guy figured out how to use cortisone to treat arthritis. A few years later, another guy figured out how to prevent ovulation using progesterone, inventing a little thing most ladies refer to as "the pill." So, yeah, kind of a big deal. In fact, the arthritis guy got a Nobel Prize for his work.
"If we'd spent money on kids we wouldn't have all these boxes of stuff! Thanks Percy Julian!"
Percy Julian, the guy who made all of that and more possible, got jack shit.
So why have we never heard of him?
Did we mention that Julian was a black man living under Jim Crow? No? Because he was.
We know what you're thinking. It's because he was black, right? Not exactly. Back before Julian ever figured out all this steroid stuff, the promising chemist was hired as a faculty member at the traditionally black school Howard University. The only problem was that he really wanted to get his Ph.D. in chemistry, something no other African-American had accomplished up to that point. Even though there wasn't a school in the country that would offer him a spot in a doctoral program, Julian percyvered, securing himself a fellowship to get his doctorate in Vienna, Austria.
Racism can't exist somewhere with this many old statues.
Homesick, stressed and still pissed over having to leave the country to get his degree, Julian sent letter after letter to one of his colleagues back at Howard. But instead of limiting his subject matter to awesome Austrian food and the sick waltzes he kept hearing, Julian bragged about his sexual exploits with foreign ladies and talked trash about his former co-workers at Howard. Big mistake. Because years later, he ended up back at that same university and pissed off his ex-pen pal, who then found it totally professional and appropriate to hand Julian's letters to the black press, who found it totally appropriate and professional to publish them.
Then, as if having his private smack-talk letters made public wasn't enough, Julian was correctly accused of having an affair with his assistant's wife. He was forced to quit Howard University and left town humiliated and vilified by the black press, which chose to keep that grudge against him years later when he saved the universe with steroids. By 2004, "no historian had ever studied Julian's career; no biographer had ever told his story."
We've said it before and we'll say it again: Success is all about not pissing off the right people.
Smile at everyone, never burn bridges, and always carry a handgun.
#1. The Slave Who Tried to Take New Orleans
Quick! What's the first thing that pops into your head when we say "slave rebellion"? If you have even a little bit of a history education, you'll say Nat Turner's 1831 revolt in Virginia. It involved over 70 slaves who killed 55 white men, women and children, and it ended after the official executions of 55 slaves, with 200 more unofficially tortured and/or killed by angry white mobs. Nat Turner's story is the most well-known slave rebellion in American history. But it wasn't the largest or most remarkable, not by a long shot.
In 1811, a slave named Charles Deslondes led between 200 and 500 uniformed, semi-armed, flag-bearing multi-ethnic slaves toward New Orleans, and they weren't coming for goddamned Mardi Gras. They wanted to conquer the city and establish a black republic on the Louisiana coast.
For years, Deslondes had played the part of the loyal, trustworthy slave, all the while plotting a revolution, just like the one that happened in his home country of Haiti a few years earlier. But he wasn't interested in a Nat Turner-style helter-skelter slaughter. Which was why his conspirators didn't steal just the weapons of their masters, but their militia uniforms and marching drum as well, and why between 10 and 25 percent of the local slave population joined them. For seven hours, the army marched from plantation to plantation, picking up more slaves and leaving destroyed homes and terrorized slave owners behind as they made their way to New Orleans.
Thousands of college students follow in their footsteps every year.
By the next morning, refugees from the plantations had warned the New Orleans militia of the coming insurrection, and the better-armed whites easily squelched the revolt. Charles Deslondes was never tried for the insurrection, but that was probably because he was shot, mutilated and burned alive before anyone had the chance to formally arrest him.
So why have we never heard of him?
Because the story of an organized, politically sophisticated slave rebellion didn't quite fit the narrative that Southern slave owners wanted for their history. Especially since Deslondes' rebellion only killed two people, while the retribution resulted in the immediate deaths of over 45 rebels, the decapitation of 18 more, (whose heads were displayed on pikes), and then the execution of dozens of others for good measure. And oh yeah, $300 in compensation for every executed slave ... to the slave owners, for loss of property.
"Pick up yer receipt around back."
As word of the failed rebellion spread across the South, something incredible happened. Louisiana newspapers downplayed the incident, claiming the rebels were nothing more than bandits, while others deliberately omitted the story altogether, as if it never happened. One historian says the white slave owners' refusal to acknowledge the revolt "laid the groundwork for one of the most significant moments of collective amnesia in American popular consciousness." To this day, the only memorial of America's largest slave rebellion is this plaque:
...which isn't so much an acknowledgment of the uprising as it is a memorial to the plantation itself. Way to go, history.
To view more of Eric Yosomono's ramblings visit GaijinAss.
For more stuff your teachers got wrong, check out The 5 Most Ridiculous Lies You Were Taught in History Class and 8 Historic Symbols That Mean The Opposite of What You Think.
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