Mathematics History of Blacks in Mathematics

(87) Modern History of Blacks in Mathematics

A Modern History of Blacks in Mathematics

On this web page we consider a contemporary history of Blacks in Mathematics, not Who are the greatest Black Mathematicians? (for that click the question). Here you can learn about (and even before) the first African Americans in the Mathematical Sciences, (for the First African American Women click) The First Africans, and Other Important Events in the past 300 years. For earlier periods in history see the web pages of Mathematics in Ancient Africa. For a history of African Americans in science read Kenneth Manning’s article Can History Predict the Future?

Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) is often recognized as the first African American mathematician; however, ex-slave Thomas Fuller‘s (1710-1790) and the Nigerian Muhammad ibn Muhammad‘s (16??-1741) activities predate Benjamin Banneker. None of these men had formal degrees.

1849 Charles Reason (1814-1893) was probably the first African American to receive a faculty position in mathematics at a predominantly white institution – Central College in Cortland County, New York.

1862 Yale University becomes the first United States of America institution to award a Ph.D. in mathematics.

1878 The first African American to earn a Ph.D. in Science was Edward Alexander Bouchet (Physics – Yale University) and only the sixth American to possess a Ph.D. in Physics. For the history of African Americans in Physics, see [A Timeline of African American Physicists].

1886 Kelly Miller was the first African American to study graduate mathematics (Johns Hopkins University), the first American University, to offer a program in graduate mathematics.

From 1923 to 1947, 12 Blacks earned a Ph.D. in Mathematics.

1923 The first African to earn a Ph.D. was Ali Mostafa Mosharafa, of Egypt, who received his Ph.D. (1923) and D.Sc. (1924) from the University of London in 1923 and 1924.

1925 The first african american to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics (Cornell University) was Elbert Frank Cox. There were 28 Ph.D.’s awarded in the United States that year. However, nearly 20 years would pass before the first african american Women would earn a Ph.D.

1928 Dudley Weldon Woodard becomes the second african american to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics (University of Pennsylvania).

1929 The first research paper published in an acredited mathematics journal by an african american. Dudley Woodard‘s On two dimensional analysis situs with special reference to the Jordan Curve Theorem, Fundamenta Mathematicae 13 (1929), 121-145.

1933 William Schieffelin Claytor becomes the third african american to earn a a Ph.D. in Mathematics (University of Pennsylvania). Dr. Claytor’s struggle to earn recognition in the mathematical world was quite typical prior to 1970. You can read about it in his profile.

1934 Walter R. Talbot becomes the fourth african american to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics (University of Pittsburgh). The first African American publication in a top research journal was William W. S. Claytor‘s Topological Immersian of Peanian Continua in a Spherical Surface, Annals of Mathematics 35 (1934), 809-835. Here is a page from another of Claytor’s papers. Claytor was thought have extraordinary promise as a mathematician; however, racism took its toll on his success.

1938 Ruben R. McDaniel (Cornell University) and Joesph Pierce (University of Michigan) are the fifth and sixth African Americans to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics

1941 At the age of 22, David Blackwell becomes the seventh african american to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics (University of Illinois). He may well be the greatest black Mathematician.

1942 At age 19, J. Ernest Wilkins becomes the eithth african american to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics (University of Chicago). He is certainly one of the greatest black Mathematicians.

From 1943 to 1969, thirteen african american women earn the Ph.D. in Mathematics.

1943 Euphemia Lofton Haynes (Catholic University), the first african american woman, and Clarence F. Stephens (University of Michigan) become the ninth and tenth african americans to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics.

See our web page Black Women in Mathematics for a chronology of the first 20 Black women Ph.D.’s. Also an ongoing effort, a chronology of all African Americans is under construction at Timeline of African American Ph.D.’s in Mathematics.

1944 The eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth african americans earned a Ph.D. this year. Joseph J. Dennis earned a Ph.D. in Mathematics (Northwestern University). Wade Ellis and Warren Hill Brothers both earned a Ph.D. in Mathematics (University of Michigan).

1945 Jeremiah Certaine was the fourteenth african american to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics (University of Michigan). At this time half of all African American Ph.D.’s in Mathematics were earned by students of the University of Michigan.

1947 The earliest record of a Mathematics Ph. D. by an African appears to be Ghanaian A. M. Taylor (Oxford University, we think in 1947).

According to a 1951 letter from the AMS (the American Mathematics Society) to Lee Lorch, “when the Society met at the University of Georgia in 1947, not one Negro was present.” This is false, J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr. had asked to participate; however, he received a letter from the AMS Associate Secretary for the Southeastern region urging him to come and saying that very satisfactory arrangements had been made with which they were sure he’d be pleased: they had found a “nice colored family” with whom he could stay and where he would take his meals! The hospitality of the University of Georgia (and of the AMS) was not for him. This is why the meeting there was totally white.

1949 The fourteenth african american and the second african american Woman to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics was Evelyn Boyd Granville (Yale University).

1950 The third African American Women and fifteenth African american to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics was Marjorie Lee Browne (University of Michigan). George H. Butcher is the sixteenth african american to earn the Ph.D. (University of Pennsylvania). The Nigerian Chike Obi is the second African to earn the Ph.D. in Mathematics.

1951 The American Mathematics Society sold its library to the University of Georgia, which was the highest of six bidders. A careful search of AMS records does not disclose any assurances given — or even sought — that all AMS members, regardless of race, would be able to use it. This was at a time of intense segregation mandated by Georgia state law. (At the other four U.S. institutions bidding, access would not have been a problem.)

1953 Luna I. Mishoe is the seventeenth african american to earn the Ph.D. (New York University).

1954 David Blackwell becomes the first African American to hold a permanent position at major university (university of California at Berkley). Charles Bell is the eighteenth african american to earn the Ph.D. (University of Notre Dame).

1955 Adegoke Olubummo (King’s College, University of Durham in Castle-Upon-Tyne, United Kingdom) is the third African to earn a Ph. D. in Mathematics. Vincent McRea (Catholic University) and Lonnie Cross (Cornell University) are the ninteenth and twentieth african american to earn the Ph.D. in Mathematics.

1956 The Soviet Union launched the first satellite to orbit the Earth. The United States reaction by pouring enormous funds in to basic research. As a result, many African American students of the late 1950’s and the 1960’s were able to study mathematics at a level not possible before (see Raymond L. Johnson). Lloyd K. Williams is the twenty-first african american to earn the Ph.D. in Mathematics. Also in 1956, Gloria Ford Gilmer is the first african american woman to publish a non-Ph.D.-thesis mathematics research paper (with Luna I. Mishoe) and this is the first paper publishd joint mathematics research between two Black co-authors.

1957 Eugene A. Graham earns a Ph.D. from the University of Turin in Italy. This appears to be the first instance of an African American earning a Mathematics Ph.D. outside the U.S.

1960 second paper published joint mathematics research between two Black co-authors, Charles Bell and David Blackwell: Bell, C. B.; Blackwell, David; Breiman, Leo On the completeness of order statistics . Ann. Math. Statist. 31 1960 794–797.

1961 Lonnie Cross shocked the african american and mathematics community by changing his name to Abdulalim Shabbazz, and becoming the first African American scientist to embrace the followers of Elijah Mohammed, the leader of the African American Moslem community.

1963 Grace Lele Williams became the first Nigerian woman to earn any doctorate when she got her Ph.D. in Mathematics (University of Chicago).

1964 This year David Blackwell became the first african american mathematician to Chair a department (Statistics) at a major university University of California-Berkeley. Elsewhere, under the direction of Clarence Stephens (using the The Morgan-Potsdam Model of teaching and learning mathematics) and Walter Talbot, Morgan State University (then College) became the first institution to have three african americans of the same graduating class who would eventually go on to obtain a Ph.D. in Mathematics. This record still stands among all universities and colleges.

1965 David Blackwell became the first african american named to The National Academy of Sciences.

1968 From 1968 to 1969: Percy A. Pierre was White House Fellow for the Executive Office of the President of the United States

1969 Clarence Ellis is the first African American to earn a Computer Science Ph.D. (University of Illinois, 1969). At the January 1969 Annual Meeting of The American Mathematics Society, then mathematics graduate students Johnny Houston and Scott Williams called together a group of African American mathematicians. This group begat an adhoc organization, Black and Third World Mathematicians, which, in 1971, changed its name to The National Association of Mathematicians (NAM). In 1969, the Balamp Company publishes the book Negroes in Science- Natural Science Doctorates by James M. Jay.

1972 The first Kenyan African to become Full Professor of Mathematics was Morris Sika Alala, (at the University of Nairobi).

1974 J. Ernest Wilkins, jr. became President of the American Nuclear Society. Alton Wallace becomes the first African American to earn a mathematics Ph.D. with an African American thesis advisor, Raymond L. Johnson at the University of Maryland

1975 The African Mathematical Union (AMU) was founded in Africa. Its first president was Henri Hogbe Nlend, then of the Cameroon.

1976 The first AMU Pan-African Congress of Mathematicians is held in Rabat, Morocco. J. Ernest Wilkins, jr. becomes a member of The National Academy of Engineers. Under the guidance of its Mathematics Department chair James Donaldson and aid of the chair, J. Ernest Wilkins, jr, of its Physics Department, Howard University established the first Ph.D. program in Mathematics at a Historically Black University and College (HCBU).

1979 David Blackwell wins the von Neumann Theory Prize (Operations Research Society of America).

1980 NAM inaugurates the first Claytor Lecture with Professor James Josephs as speaker. The first book (begun in 1971 by Virginia K. Newell) on African American Mathematicians, Black Mathematicians and their Works, Dorrance & Company, was finally published by V. K. Newell, J. H. Gipson, L. W. Rich, and B. Stubblefield. The Southern African Mathematical Sciences Association (SAMSA). was founded among the 12 countries of southern Africa in 1980.

1981 C. Dwight Lahr is the first African American to get tenure in a department of mathematics of an Ivy League School.

1984 C. Dwight Lahr is the first African American to become Full Professor in a department of mathematics of an Ivy League School.

1986 The first issue of the AMUCHA – The African Mathematical Union’s Commission on the History of Mathematics in Africa was presented.

1990 AMUCWMA – The African Mathematical Union Commission on Women in Mathematics in Africa is founded with Grace Lele Williams as Chairman.

1992 Gloria Gilmer is the first woman to deliver a major NAM lecture.

1995 The first Conference for African American Researchers in the Mathematical Sciences (CAARMS1) was held at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI). The conference organizers were Raymond Johnson, William Massey, William Thurston, and James Turner. Each year since then CAARMS has met: CAARMS2 (at Rutgers University and Lucent Technologies), CAARMS3 (at Morgan State University and the National Security Agency), CAARMS4 (at Rice University). In June of 1999, CAARMS5 will meet at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

1997 Kate Okikiolu becomes the first Black to win Mathematics’ most prestigious young person’s award, the Sloan Research Fellowship. She also is awarded the new $500,000 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers. The organization Council for African American Researchers in the Mathematical Sciences (CAARMS) was formed to oversee the CAARMS conferences and to aid African Americans interested in research in mathematics. Also in 1997, Nathaniel Dean‘s book African American Mathematicians was published by the American Mathematical Society.

Sources and References

The First Africans

Algeria: Chikh BOUZAR Ph.D. 1986 Belorussian State University (Minsk, Belorussia).

Angola: Manuel Domingos O. CADETE Ph.D. 1999 Tula State Pedagogical University (Tula, Russia)

Benin: Sunday Osarumwense Iyahen Ph. D. (Keele) 1967; D. Sc. (Keele) 1987; Idris Assani The Doctorat 3 eme cycle 1981 Pure mathematics University Pierre and Marie Curie- Paris 6- Doctorat es Sciences 1986- Pure mathematics- University Pierre et Marie Curie Paris 6.

Botswana: Basinyi CHIMIDZA 1995 (Ph.D.) Louisiana State University

Burkina Faso: Albert OUEDRAOGO 1969 (Doctorat 3ème cycle) Université Pierre et Marie Curie – Paris VI (Paris, France

Burundi: Juma SHABANI 1986 (Doctorat en sciences) Université de Louvaine, Belgium

Ghana: Daniel Akyeampong ( University of London 1966) and F.K.A. Allotey (Princeton 1966) were the first Ghanaian Ph.D.s in the mathematical sciences. Atu M. Taylor was the third (Oxford 1967)

Nigeria: Indigenous mathematics research activities in Nigeria were pioneered by Chike Obi (1950), Adegoke Olubummo (1955), and James Ezeilo all of whom obtained their doctorates in mathematics from British Universities in the 1950’s. For more read Mathematics in Nigeria Today. Grace Lele Williams became, in 1963, the first Nigerian woman to earn any doctorate when she got her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

Kenya: The first Kenyan African to become Full Professor of Mathematics was Morris Sika Alala, at the University of Nairobi in 1972.


this section is being researched with the help of African Mathematical Union.

A Personal Statement

It is most fortunate that I, Scott Williams, have had the opportunity to meet several of the individuals above or on the page Black Women in Mathematics, among them are: Drs. Marjorie Lee Browne (who taught math alongside my mother at Gilbert Academy in the late 1930s), Gloria Hewitt, Vivienne Malone Mayes, Geraldine Darden, Etta Falconer, and J. Ernest Wilkins, all of whom I met after obtaining my Ph.D. However, the individuals having the greatest influence upon my career, where met during my mathematical formatory years. In my hometown Baltimore, Benjamin Banneker was most revered, and we learned about his works in grade school in the 1950s. A close family friend, Virgil Clift co-authored the Enclyopedia of Black America, and my Physics teacher, Julius Taylor, wrote The Negro in Science. The physical-chemist Dr. Herman Branson and the mathematical physicist, Dr. Luna Mishoe both taught in summer programs at Morgan State for high ability high school students of which I was a member. Both Dr. Clarence Stephens and Dr. Walter Talbot were my teachers at Morgan State. Dr. William Claytor and his wife Dr. Mae Claytor (Psychology) were friends of my parents. After Dr. Claytor’s death in 1967, and upon the occasion of my Ph.D. (1969), Mae Claytor presented me with her husband’s entire personal mathematics library with the words,

“He watched your career more closely than you realized, and as you chose Topology, his field of interest, he wanted you to have these.”

Dr. Claytor, I hope in your eyes, that I have done well.

Scott W. Williams06/05/97

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