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Lincoln I. Diuguid: A Scientist, Despite Color Barriers

Lincoln Diuguid reads to a grandchild.
Provided by the family

Lincoln Diuguid, an African American who was born as the brutality of slavery was rapidly being replaced by the yoke of Jim Crow, was warned that it was fruitless to pursue his dream of becoming a scientist.

The discouraging words had the opposite effect on him.

“It's a good stimulus,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2007, shortly after his 90th birthday. “It keeps you moving ahead.”

He became the first black person to earn advanced degrees from Cornell University and spent nearly half a century in college classrooms teaching chemistry. But Mr. Diuguid (pronounced DO-good) had the heart of a scientist and divided his time between teaching and toiling in a small laboratory, often in solitary pursuit of a cure for cancer.

Mr. Diuguid, whose work also included developing numerous commercial products, died Tuesday, January 27, at Beauvais Manor on the Park in St. Louis, after contracting pneumonia. He was 97.

Services will be Saturday at Ambruster Chapel in St. Louis.

Behind the Color Line

Mr. Diuguid had ignored another piece of advice: Pass for white. Had he done so, life may have been a bit easier.

A stellar education could not help him land a job “simply because I was black” he told KSDK-TV in 2008.

Once, he said, he was offered an important job in New York City, if he could pass for white. His would-be employers further stipulated that if other well-qualified blacks applied for jobs with the company, he could not hire them.

“I couldn’t do that,” Mr. Diuguid said.

“He could have, but he didn’t,” said his youngest child, Vincent Diuguid of St. Louis. “That’s the way he was.”

Instead, in 1947, Mr. Diuguid converted a veterinary hospital into Du-Good Chemical Laboratories & Manufacturers at 1215 South Jefferson Avenue. There he developed anti-cancer compounds, among them a protein that was tested on spontaneous tumors on mice and rabbits with 100 percent remissions.

With no grant money for clinical trials, he tested his compounds on himself – and his dog. He said he cured a growth on his nose that had been there for a year.

“I took two subcutaneous shots of that tissue extraction, which is a protein, and that thing disappeared,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “And I cured my dog with it.”

His 12-year-old dog had sarcoma of the soft tissue in its left hip area.

Mr. Diuguid achieved breakthroughs in industry as well, but his efforts went largely unrecognized.

Lincoln Diuguid as a young man
Credit Provided by the family
Lincoln Diuguid as a young man

While doing post-doctoral lab work at Cornell, he developed a new synthesizing method to increase fuel yields for B.F. Goodrich Co., which sold the procedure to Standard Oil for a tidy profit.

It should have ensured Mr. Diuguid a job with the tire and rubber giant; it did not. The company did not hire blacks.

Years later, he created another important procedure, but recognition still eluded him.

“I resent it now that I worked out a process to convert aviation-based gasoline into what eventually was a plasticizing agent to treat all plastics,” he told the Post-Dispatch in 2007. “But I didn't get any credit for it.”

He made a unique form of glass from the reprocessing of materials used in the manufacturing of beer and identified the chemical compound in antifreeze that causes corrosion of copper pipes in baseboard heaters. The latter solved the Interterm Company’s problem of baseboard heaters failing in less than two years.

On His Own Terms

Mr. Diuguid refused a number of jobs because of discriminatory work rules, like limiting the people with whom a black person could interact.

In his own lab, he developed household and personal products and marketed them as he saw fit. He advertised and traveled to trade shows all over the country.

Lincoln Diuguid in an undated photo with children David, Renee and Lewis
Credit Provided by the family
Lincoln Diuguid in an undated photo with children David, Renee and Lewis

Kreaton Facial Cream was one of his most popular items. It healed acne and prevented scarring from abrasions and first- and second-degree burns.

One of his former students, now a retired teacher, has plans to recreate Mr. Diuguid’s lab at his soon-to-open George Vashon History Museum on St. Louis Avenue.

Along with memorabilia like Mr. Diuguid’s business license, Calvin Riley has his chemical machines and product samples, among them insect repellant, shaving lotion, skin cream and hand sanitizer.

“He said he was the first person to make a hand cleanser, but did not get credit for it,” Riley said.

“He was more than a teacher, he taught us about life,” Riley added. “He had very high expectations.”

Mr. Diuguid mentored hundreds of high school and college students. He even hired some of them. Guy Tucker, who worked in his Stowe lab, volunteered at Du-Good.

When Mr. Diuguid learned that Tucker was interested in meteorology, he offered encouragement and, later, a reference that Tucker believes clinched the job.

“This man was something else,” said Tucker, who went on to work as a meteorologist for the National Weather Service for 33 years. “He was a great teacher who pushed his students and loved his students.”

Infinite Good Will

Mr. Diuguid graduated magna cum laude with a degree in chemistry from West Virginia State College in 1938. He became head of the chemistry department at what is now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and worked as an analytical chemist at the Pine Bluff Arsenal during World War II.

He earned master’s degree and a doctorate in chemistry from Cornell University, completing post-doctoral work there in organic chemistry in 1947. That same year, he came to St. Louis, where his brother William Diuguid was the first black magistrate, and opened his lab.

Mr. Diuguid joined Stowe Teachers College in St Louis, then a school for blacks, in 1949. He later served as chair of the physical science department for what became Harris-Stowe State University for more than 25 years.

An ad for Du-Good laboratories
Credit Provided by the family
An ad for Du-Good laboratories

“He was nice to everyone” and even told “hard truths” in a good way, said John House, who met Mr. Diuguid at Harris-Stowe. ”He was an incredibly humble person with almost infinite good will.”

Mr. Dieguid also worked for a time at Jefferson Barracks, Jewish Hospital, the Leukemia Guild of Missouri and Illinois and as a visiting professor in chemistry at Washington University.

Among his honors were awards from the St. Louis Section of the American Chemical Society, the American Cancer Society and the St. Louis American newspaper. His picture and biography hang in the St. Louis Science Center and his name is embedded in the St. Louis Gateway Classic Foundation Walk of Fame.  He was a member of the Ethical Society, the Leukemia Guild and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, from which he received the Man of the Year Award.

Lincoln Isaiah Diuguid was the youngest of Lewis Walter Diuguid, a railroad worker, and Bettie Alice McCoy Diuguid’s nine children. He was born February 6, 1917, in Lynchburg, Va., where he would return again and again with his wife, Nancy Ruth Greenlee Diuguid, and their young family for summer visits.

It was during these vacations, said his daughter, Renee Tolson of Blue Springs, Mo., that Mr. Diuguid shed his gruff persona and became “fun guy,” playing golf and riding go-carts.

“(Our parents) were about business at home: good grades, education,” Tolson said. They also insisted that the children work at the lab for their allowances.

Mr. Diuguid was preceded in death by his wife, parents, siblings and a grandson.

In addition to his son and daughter, his survivors include two other sons, David (Caryn) Diuguid, M.D., of Teaneck, N.J., and Lewis (Betty Beaver) Diuguid of Kansas City, and seven grandchildren.

Visitation for Mr. Diuguid will be from 1 to 2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 7, with funeral services immediately following at Ambruster Chapel, 6633 Clayton Rd.

If desired, memorials would be appreciated to the American Cancer Society.

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.