African American Mathematicians
The contributions of African Americans are significant and often overlooked. Today, we want to highlight some famous African American mathematicians who have made a great impact in their field and inspired future generations of young Americans in STEM.
Elbert Frank Cox (1895-1969) was the first Black man in the world to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics. After attending a segregated school and serving in World War I, Cox earned his Ph.D. from Cornell University on September 26, 1925. He was a professor at West Virginia State College until 1929 when he began teaching at Howard University in Washington D.C. He was the head of the Department of Mathematics from 1957 to 1961, publishing papers on specialized polynomials as solutions for certain differential equations. The Elbert F. Cox Scholarship Fund, used to help Black students pursue degrees in mathematics, was established in his honor.
David Harold Blackwell (1919-2010) was a statistician and mathematician who made significant contributions to game theory, probability theory, information theory, and Bayesian statistics. He is one of the eponyms of the Rao–Blackwell theorem. He was the first African American inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, the first black tenured faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, and the seventh African American to receive a Ph.D. in Mathematics. Blackwell was also a pioneer in textbook writing. He wrote one of the first Bayesian textbooks, his 1969 Basic Statistics. By the time he retired, he had published over 90 books and papers on dynamic programming, game theory, and mathematical statistics.
Source: Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "David Blackwell". Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 Apr. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/David-Blackwell. Accessed 2 July 2021.
Martha Euphemia Lofton Haynes (1890-1980) was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. Haynes attended Smith College with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Chicago before earning her Ph.D. from The Catholic University in Washington D.C. in 1943. She taught in the Washington, D.C. public school system for 47 years, and was a professor of mathematics at Miner Teachers College. She was the first African American woman to hold the position of president of the Washington, D.C. Board of Education from 1960 to 1968.
Evelyn Boyd Granville (1919-present) was the second Black female to receive a PhD in mathematics from an American university. After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Smith College in mathematics and physics, she attended Yale University and finished her doctorate in 1949 with the dissertation “On Laguerre Series in the Complex Domain.” Granville then undertook a year of postdoctoral research at New York University's Institute of Mathematics and Science. In 1950, Granville accepted the position of associate professor of Mathematics at Fisk University, teaching Vivienne Malone Mayes and Etta Zuber Falconer, the seventh and eleventh African American women to receive PhDs in Mathematics. In a 1994 interview with Loretta Hall, Granville noted her biggest achievements were "First of all, showing that women can do mathematics." Then she added, "Being an African American woman, letting people know that we have brains too."
While these are just a few of the African American pioneers in mathematics, there are several other famous mathematicians that have made inalienable contributions to their fields. To learn more about the history of African Americans in mathematics, visit http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/wohist.html or https://www.mashupmath.com/blog/famous-african-american-mathematicians.