Ernest Everett Just was born on August 14, 1883 in Charleston, South Carolina. Because high schools in the South provided such poor education at that time for African-American children, Just’s mother decided to send him North to receive better schooling. Through hard work, Ernest was able to earn enough money to attend the Kimball Academy in New Hampshire. The Kimball Academy was an exclusive school and Just excelled in his classes. As the editor of the school newspaper and President of the debating team, Just completed the four year program in only three years, graduating with honors as the valedictorian of his class.
In 1903, Just entered Dartmouth College and became a research biologist specializing in cytology (the study of cells). Learning under the guidance of world famous zoologist William Patten, Just excelled and received degrees in history and biology. Upon graduation in 1907, having already been elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honors fraternity, was named class valedictorian and was the only member of his class to graduate Magna Cum Laude.
In October 1907, Just was hired by Howard University in Washington, D.C. and would eventually become the head of the biology department while also heading the physiology department and serving as a member of the Medical School’s faculty. With all of these responsibilities, Just was still able to pursue a Ph.D. in Zoology, which he received in 1916, from the University of Chicago. He experimented with the reproductive systems and cells of marine animals in the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. His research and papers on Marine biology were so well received that in 1915, at the age 32, Just was awarded the first Spingarn Medal by the NAACP.