For his job hunt in the States, it didn’t matter how many advances to science Just had on his resume, how many scientific papers he authored or how many awards he received. He was consistently turned down by the larger, predominantly white colleges and universities, his brilliance overshadowed by their biases. Knowing that his career aspirations would be stifled in the States, Just turned to Europe for a better future in hopes that racism wouldn’t follow.
Though Just spent the majority of his career thereafter overseas, his contributions made their way back home to serve future scientists, biologists and students on their own scientific journeys. He is revered and celebrated for his discovery of the importance of a cell’s surface for development. Equally as important is his contribution to the ongoing legacy of the Just family. Just two generations before him, his grandfather was a member of the Free Black Community of Charleston. And one generation after him, his daughter served as a civil rights activist.
Inspiring Future Generations
Just was a driving force behind Al’s own personal career trajectory. He shared these sentiments with one of his professors, Dr. Matt Gilligan (Dr. G) and a fellow classmate at the time, Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown (who currently serves as director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration programs at Savannah State University), among others. It was she who first introduced Dr. G to the life and legacy of Just. “Just has had a profound influence on me, personally, and on my teaching and mentoring career,” Dr. G tells us. “So many of the things that he experienced, the obstacles that he overcame, the circumstances that were insurmountable and his immense contribution to science tell an epic American story of triumph and tragedy.”