Black Bruin History – James “Jimmy” Lu Valle (1936. M.S. 1937)



Photo: James “Jimmy” Lu Valle/UCLA Photography

James “Jimmy” Lu Valle led a life full of awards, accolades and achievements. In 1936, he received the Jake Gimball award as UCLA’s moat outstanding senior, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. In addition to his academic success, he was on UCLA’s track and field team, and won a bronze medal in the 400-meter event in the 1936 Olympic games.

James returned to UCLA in 1937 to earn his Masters degree in chemistry and physics. As a graduate student, he founded the organization that is now known as the UCLA Graduate Student Association. After graduating from UCLA. he worked as an instructor at Fisk University. He then became the first African American chemist to work for Eastman Kodak’s research department. His other work included nuclear research for Enrico Fermi’s team at the University of Chicago, and Director of Undergraduate Chemistry Labs for Stanford. His work in photochemistry led to three patents.

Lu Valle Commons. a student center run by ASUCLA, was the first campus building to be named after a UCLA student. Inside the center is “Jimmy’s Coffee Shop,” also named for this distinguished Bruin.