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Fillmore Freeman

Organic chemist and chemistry professor Fillmore Freeman was born in 1936 in Lexington, Mississippi. Freeman earned his high school diploma from John Marshall High School in Chicago, Illinois in 1953. In 1957, he graduated summa cum laude from Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio, with his B.S. degree, and then went on to pursue his graduate studies at Michigan State University, where he received his Ph.D. degree in physical organic chemistry in 1962.

After a brief stint working with a private firm, Freeman served as a National Institutes of Health Fellow at Yale University in 1964. The following year, he became an assistant professor of at California State University at Long Beach. During this time, the school expanded its chemistry and biochemistry programs to accommodate the growing interest in these fields. In 1973, Freeman became a professor of chemistry at the University of California at Irvine, where he continued to work for the duration of his professional career. With his background in physical organic chemistry, Freeman has conducted research on a number of topics, including organic synthesis pathways and reactions, particularly those of cyclic compounds. His research has also relied heavily on the use of computational chemistry. In 1991, Freeman was the recipient of a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the biochemical properties of allicin, a component of garlic chemistry. Freeman’s work has had a strong emphasis in isolating, researching and synthesizing compounds with anti-tumor and anti-viral properties.

Freeman has received much recognition for his work in the field of physical organic chemistry. He was named an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Fellow and a Fulbright-Hayes Senior Research Fellow. He also had the opportunity to serve as a visiting professor at the Max Planck Institute of Biophysical Chemistry and the University of Paris. Author of numerous academic papers, Freeman was identified as the third most highly cited African American chemist in a 2002 report by Oklahoma State University.

Fillmore Freeman was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 29, 2011.

Accession Number

A2012.203

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/27/2012

Last Name

Freeman

Marital Status

Divorced

Schools

John Marshall Metropolitan High School

Central State University

Michigan State University

Yale University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Fillmore

Birth City, State, Country

Lexington

HM ID

FRE06

Favorite Season

None

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Paris, France, Berlin, Germany, Spain

Favorite Quote

The time before memories.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

4/10/1936

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

United States

Favorite Food

All Food

Short Description

Organic chemist and chemistry professor Fillmore Freeman (1936 - ) joined the faculty of California State University in 1973. He has conducted significant research in the field of physical organic chemistry, particularly in the synthesis and structural understanding of potential anti-tumor and anti-viral compounds.

Employment

University of California, Irvine

California State University, Long Beach

California Research Corporation

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Université de Paris VII

Institut de Chimie des Substances Naturelles

Max-Planck-Institut

Favorite Color

Blue, Earth Tones

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Fillmore Freeman's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Fillmore Freeman lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Fillmore Freeman describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Fillmore Freeman describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Fillmore Freeman talks about segregation and slavery in Mississippi

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his paternal family owning land in Mississippi, and his father's role as a Baptist minister

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his father's training to become a Baptist minister

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his parents moving to Chicago, his mother's death, his father remarrying, and his four siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Fillmore Freeman talks about the socio-economic dynamics of skin color in the African American community

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Fillmore Freeman lists his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Fillmore Freeman describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Fillmore Freeman talks about moving to Chicago when he was five years old, and his early experience there

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Fillmore Freeman describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Chicago

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Fillmore Freeman talks about the Chicago public school system, and the condition of the city's housing projects in the 1940s

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Fillmore Freeman describes his experience in Catholic school

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Fillmore Freeman talks about gang activity in Chicago in the 1940s

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Fillmore Freeman talks about leaving Chicago in 1953

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Fillmore Freeman talks about graduating from elementary school and attending high school

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Fillmore Freeman talks about attending his father's church as a child, and his perspective on religion

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his parents' employment in Chicago

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his jobs as a youngster in Chicago

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Fillmore Freeman describes his experience in high school

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Fillmore Freeman talks about Maxwell Street in Chicago

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Fillmore Freeman talks about playing basketball in high school

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his academic performance in high school and the pressures of life for African Americans who lived in the housing projects

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Fillmore Freeman describes his studies and his extracurricular activities in high school

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Fillmore Freeman describes his decision to attend Central State University, and his involvement in the ROTC Program

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his professors at Central State University

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Fillmore Freeman talks about Charles Wesley, HistoryMaker, Alice Windom, and segregation in Wilberforce and Xenia, Ohio in the 1950s

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Fillmore Freeman describes his decision to pursue a doctoral degree at Michigan State University

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Fillmore Freeman describes his Ph.D. dissertation on tetracyanocyclopropanes chemistry

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Fillmore Freeman talks about the interest in cyclopropane chemistry in the 1950s

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Fillmore Freeman describes being involved in a serious laboratory accident at Michigan State University

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his recovery from a serious laboratory accident in 1959 - part one

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Fillmore Freeman talks about meeting his wife in Chicago, and getting married in 1959

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his recovery from a serious laboratory accident in 1959 - part two

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Fillmore Freeman describes his decision to work at Standard Oil of California, and his experience there

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Fillmore Freeman describes his experience as a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University and his decision to work at California State University

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Fillmore Freeman talks about the lack of African American faculty and students at the University of California, Irvine

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his sabbatical at the University of Paris, and accepting a tenured position at the University of California, Irvine

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Fillmore Freeman describes his research on using chemical compounds to combat Chagas disease

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his involvement with NOBCChE

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Fillmore Freeman describes his experience in Paris in 1972

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Fillmore Freeman describes the university system in California

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his early research in synthetic organic chemistry, screening chemical compounds against HIV, and his work on carbenes

Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his sabbatical at the University of Illinois, Chicago in 1976

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his experience on sabbatical at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Fillmore Freeman describes his experience at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and at Institut de Chimie des Substances Naturelles in France

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Fillmore Freeman talks about the African American demographics at the University of California, Irvine

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Fillmore Freeman talks about serving as a visiting scientist and program director of organic and macromolecular chemistry at the NSF in 1989

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Fillmore Freeman describes his research in the area of organosulfur chemistry, and his collaboration with Professor Eloy Rodriguez

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Fillmore Freeman talks about the health benefits of garlic and its component compounds - part one

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Fillmore Freeman talks about the health benefits of garlic and its component compounds - part two

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his report on the properties of di-tert-butyl chromate in the Encyclopedia of Reagents for Organic Synthesis

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Fillmore Freeman talks about the dwindling number of African American faculty in chemistry departments across the United States

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Fillmore Freeman describes the field of computational chemistry, and its applications in medicine and in the pharmaceutical industry

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Fillmore Freeman shares his perspectives on the impact of computers on society and the future of physical organic chemistry

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his work to promote undergraduate chemistry research and his goals for the future

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Fillmore Freeman reflects upon his career and his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his family

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Fillmore Freeman talks about his hobbies

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Fillmore Freeman shares how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

6$5

DAStory

5$4

DATitle
Fillmore Freeman describes his research in the area of organosulfur chemistry, and his collaboration with Professor Eloy Rodriguez
Fillmore Freeman describes his decision to work at Standard Oil of California, and his experience there
Transcript
So it seems in 1991, it seems you received a grant of $507,750 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study tropical plants in Latin America and Africa that fight various fungal diseases, viruses and--$$Yeah, but that was in conjunction with Professor Eloy Rodriguez who was in the School of Bio [Biological] Science, so it was a joint grant.$$Okay, all right, and this is something. Did you have much experience with folk remedies growing up?$$No.$$Okay.$$Well, not experience, but I knew about them. I mean if you got sick in the old neighborhood, there's no such thing as going to a doctor. Everybody had some kind of folk remedy, many of which did not work, but that's all you could have.$$I just wondered if your family had any folk remedies, you know, that you remembered growing up?$$No, the medicine I remember most of all is Vicks VapoRub because of the way it smelled, and they'd rub it on your chest, and that's supposed to cure you when you got sick or have a cold. But that was an interesting collaboration. He's at Cornell [University, New York] now, but we inadvertently become, became sort of world experts in organosulfur chemistry. And when I was in Germany, they had some money left over. And they asked me did I want to go to a conference. And so I looked around, and in Yugoslavia, there was an organosulfur conference. And so I decided, hey, they want me to go so I will go. So I went to this conference which was on the Adriatic Sea. It's a place called Portoroz, and it's just like California. This was when Tito [President Marshal Tito] was still in power in Yugoslavia. But it was just capitalism. It was a tourist place. But it was, after being in Germany for that winter, it was so nice to get to this warm coast. And these sulfur chemists were arguing about a particular reaction intermediate called an alphadisulfoxide. So, you know, I just said, well, we'll just, we can just oxidize this and oxidize that because we know how to oxidize things. So everybody just laughed. So I came back to the [United] States after Germany. And there was a graduate student, Christos Angeletakis, a Greek fellow. And he wanted to do research with me. And we were looking for this elusive intermediate, the alphadisulfoxide. And one way to do that is to work at very low temperatures so you could (unclear) the rate of reactivity. And we were looking and we were looking. We couldn't get any spectroscopic evidence for it. But finally we did. So we became the first ones to identify or to build an alphadisulfoxide. And so we got into sulfur chemistry. Now, to get back to Professor Rodriguez, he's the big world's expert on plant chemists, chemistry. Now, there is this lady, Goodall, who studied the chimpanzee,--$$Yeah, Jane Goodall.$$You're right. Well, when she was studying some of these chimpanzees, she noted that they would eat leaves from a certain plant. They would just keep the leaves in their mouths. They wouldn't chew it. They'd spit it out. Some of them swallowed it. And so it turned out that some Canadian chemist was interested in this, Professor Rodriguez. And so they started isolating the chemical components of this particular plant. And it turns out that the significant component was some brilliant red compound. It had a six-membered ring and all kinds of things on the side. But in the six-membered ring, they had two sulfur atoms. So since we were thought to be world experts on organosulfur chemistry, and that's when I started collaborating with Professor Rodriguez. Again, all unplanned, but, you know, we've done a lot of sulfur chemistry.$Now, what did you do between '62 [1962] and '64 [1964]?$$I worked for Standard Oil of California. This is in the Bay Area [San Francisco, California], and it's a little--there's Berkeley and next to Berkeley is a little town called Richmond. And next to that, there's a bridge that goes from Richmond over to Marin County. And that's where the Standard Oil refinery was. At that time, Standard Oil had a lot of administrative offices over on Bush Street in San Francisco. And so I worked there for two years, and one of the reasons I went to work there was because they promised that we were gonna do basic research as opposed to industrial research. Well, there were about eleven of us in basic research. And that lasts for six months. After that, as with any big company, profits drive everything. And so we used to have these, what we called "dog and pony" shows where the people from Bush Street would come over, and we'd tell 'em what we're doing. And all they wanna know is how much money is that gonna make us. And so basically, during that two-year period, almost all of us had moved over, moved from basic research over to some industrial routine kind of work. And out of the eleven of us, nine of us left, and became professors somewhere in the United States because, again, we had wanted to do basic research. In industry, at that time, Standard Oil was one of the big people in the detergent industry because when they would crack petroleum to get these low molecular weight compounds, we all alkanes, and they could just put--and alkenes, and they could just put a sulfonate group on it. So you needed alkane, alkene that's nonpolar and a sulfonate group that's polar. So this is how you make suds and things. The non-polar part gets out the dirt and the oil and the polar part (unclear) solubility. But these things would not break down easily in the environment. Streams were getting blocked and plugged up, and so we were just looking for ways to improve making those, but also to make alternatives. So what you would do is to run a reaction and then you have to try all different concentrations. So it's routine, the same thing. Then you'd try different temperatures. Then you'd add, change one reagent, and so industrial chemistry is necessary from the profit motive. But intellectually, it's not very challenging. It's very routine. And so that's when I left to go back to Yale [University, New Haven, Connecticut] when I got a National Institutes of Health [NIH] post-doctoral fellowship.$$Okay, this is in 1964?$$Right.$$Okay, so this is a post-doc at Yale University in New Haven [Connecticut]. And--$$Now, the California Research Corporation eventually became the Chevron Research Corporation. And so--$$Oh, the California, I mean the Standard Oil?$$Right, the California Research Corporation was the research arm of Standard Oil.$$Okay.$$And so now it is the Chevron Research Corporation. And, of course, getting a job there was a big deal because growing up in Chicago [Illinois], I had always wanted to live in California. But that was also part of the big migration in the United States to the West. And there were not many jobs for chemists at that time. Shell had a facility at Emeryville which is north of San Francisco. And in Albany, California, there was a government lab. So basically, those three labs, California Research Corporation, Shell and the government lab were the only ones that were hiring people. So everybody was trying to get to the West Coast. And that's when I was in Detroit [Michigan]. I went from Lansing [Michigan] to Detroit. It was 13 [degree Fahrenheit] below [zero]. Got to San Francisco. This is in January on my interview trip. And they were having a heat wave. It was 88 degrees. Now, even since being a little kid, growing up in Chicago, I know I'm going to California. And that trip just solidified everything. There's no way I wanted to live back in the Midwest or where there was cold weather.