Earnest Everett Just was born on August 14, 1883, in Charleston, South Carolina, to Charles Frazier and Mary Matthews Just. Known as an intelligent and inquisitive student, Just studied at Kimball Hall Academy in New Hampshire before enrolling at Dartmouth College.
Just pioneered many areas on the physiology of development, including fertilization, experimental parthenogenesis, hydration, cell division, dehydration in living cells and ultraviolet carcinogenic radiation effects on cells.
Just also served as editor of three scholarly periodicals and, in 1915, won the NAACP’s first Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement by a black American. From 1920 to 1931, he was a Julius Rosenwald Fellow in Biology of the National Research Council—a position that provided him the chance to work in Europe when racial discrimination hindered his opportunities in the United States. During this time, Just penned many research papers, including the 1924 publication “General Cytology,” which he co-authored with respected scientists from Princeton University, the University of Chicago, the National Academy of Sciences and the Marine Biological Laboratory.
Held in high esteem within his field, notable black scientist Charles Drew called Just “a biologist of unusual skill and the greatest of our original thinkers in the field.”
Earnest Just died of pancreatic cancer in Washington, D.C., on October 27, 1941. He is buried at the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, Maryland.