Welcome and Introduction at CAARMS

Conference for African American Researchers in the Mathematical Sciences at MSRI

Raymond L. Johnson

Office Telephone Number:


Fax Number:

Electronic Mail Address:


I am Raymond Johnson of the University of Maryland at College Park. On behalf of my co-organizers, Bill Massey of AT&T Bell Laboratories and James Turner of Florida A & M and Florida State, I want to welcome you to the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute for this first Conference for African American Researchers in the Mathematical Sciences.

There are many people who deserve credit(and some who deserve blame) for this meeting. It began for me with discussions at the North Carolina A & T State University MathFest about what could be done to help black students who were isolated in their graduate programs. In MathFest we encourage students to take up graduate work in mathematics, and the graduate students were quite willing to honestly describe the good and bad points of their graduate careers to aspiring undergraduates. However, they asked what the community was doing to help them-when they had already made a commitment to mathematics.We all owe a debt of gratitude to Greg Allen, Sherri Burgmann, Jimmie Davis, Chenita Hampton and Tasha Inniss for raising important questions. Bill Massey, Jim Turner and I began discussing their concerns in earnest after Jim and I made visits to Georgia Tech, and our discussions received an additional impetus when, during a Human Resources Advisory Committee meeting, Bill Thurston indicated that MSRI would be interested in participating in an effort to increase the success of minority graduate students in graduate programs. With his support, Massey, Turner and I invited several of our colleagues to join us here at MSRI for a discussion of how to respond to our student's needs. David Blackwell , James Curry, Jim Donaldson, Johnny Houston and Bob Megginson(who are here) and Bill Hawkins and Irving Vance(who could not attend) joined us for that discussion. This conference is the first result; we hope it will not be the only result, but that will be the subject of our afternoon discussions.

William Thurston, Director of MSRI, played an important role in encouraging our efforts and in committing funds to support this effort. At this time, I would like to acknowledge his support and invite him to say some words on behalf of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute.

We believe that graduate students should be heard as well as seen. We have designed some interactive events to go with the conference talks. We encourage active participation. All of the mathematicians here are interested in your future; get toknow them, ask questions if there was something you did not understand. Make comments if you have something to contribute to the discussion.

There are three mathematicians that I want to especially acknowledge. One of the tremendous benefits of having the conference at MSRI, aside from the wonderful weather, is the fact that we can benefit from the contributions of David Blackwell . David has retired as a Professor of Mathematics and Statistics, a position he held at Berkeley. He has not retired from mathematics. David was the seventh African American to receive a Ph. D. in mathematics, at the age of 22. He has received numerous awards in his illustrious career including being the first African American elected to the National Academy of Sciences. He remains the only African American member of the Academy in the mathematical sciences. He has served as President of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics and Vice President of the American Statistical Association and as Vice President of the American Mathematical Society. He has received twelve honorary doctorates during his career. His most important contribution to mathematics has been as a standard setter who showed that it is possible to achieve at the highest levels of mathematics and continue to care for the accomplishments of others. He remains an active mathematician and those of you with questions about probability and statistics should seek him out. Dr. Blackwell, we appreciate all you have contributed to mathematics and to the minority community over the years.

A second person I would like for you to meet is Lee Lorch, (pictured with Peter Szego (right) retired from York University in Canada, but not from the struggle to make mathematics available to everyone. Before most of you graduate students were born, Lee was getting fired from faculties for trying to treat black people like human beings, for example, by letting them sublet his apartment. He taught at a number of historically black institutions, including Fisk and Philander Smith. While at Fisk, he had six undergraduates go on to complete Ph. D. degrees, including Etta Falconer and Vivienne Mayes. Fisk had never had an undergraduate go on to complete a Ph. D. before that time, or since Lee left. We expect to profit greatly from his advice.

There is one person who is not here that I would like for us to acknowledge. Dr. Vivienne Malone-Mayes died Friday, June 9. She was the seventh African American woman to get a Ph. D. degree, and as I mentioned above, a student of Lee Lorch at Fisk. Let me read from the AP obituary,

WACO, Texas(AP)-Vivienne Malone-Mayes, who became the first black professor at Baylor University five yars after being denied enrollment there as a student, died Friday of a heart attack. She was 63.

She was chairwoman of the mathematics department at Paul Quinn College for seven years and at Bishop College for one before she applied to Baylor's graaduate school to further her math studies in 1961.

The school's rejection letter spelled out the official policy of racial segregation, and she went to the University of Texas, where she was the only black female in her graduate math classes.

Baylor hired her five years later.

I was an undergraduate student at Texas when she started graduate work there, and I know the difficulties she endured to get a Ph. D. degree. I also know the difficulties she endured as a faculty member at Baylor. Yet she too leaves a legacy of accomplishment in mathematics under those difficult circumstances that should inspire you students to consider that perhaps your difficulties are obstacles that can be overcome, or at least that worst obstacles have been overcome.

Finally, I must preface my introduction to the third mathematician I would like for you to meet. We said that graduate students should be heard and should take advantage of this opportunity to get to know people in their areas. To foster that, we intend to (randomly or non-randomly, if there are volunteers) assign some graduate students to make the introductions of tomorrow's speakers. This means two things- you will have to get to know the person well enough to give the kind of information that you will hear me give about our keynote speaker in a few moments. Also, you should be listening to the introductions that we will make today to get the idea of what kind of factual information you need to know about the speaker.

The third mathematician I would like you to meet and get to know is our keynote speaker, J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr. of Clark Atlanta University. J. Ernest has had a most distinguished career in mathematics and engineering. He received his BS degree from the University of Chicago at the age of 16, got his MA degree at the age of 17, and his Ph. D. at the age of 19. J. Ernest was the eighth African American to receive a Ph. D. in mathematics. He was a fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study following his Ph. D. and his first job was at Tuskegee Institute. He moved from there into industry, where he had a distinguished career during which time he returned to school and received a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in Mechanical Engineering. He has served both the mathematical and engineering community, as a Council member of the American Mathematical Society and as et al President of the American Nuclear Society. In 1976, in recognition of his many accomplishments, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Dr. Wilkins has broad interests from analysis to applied mathematics. Today he will speak to us on "Real Zeros of Random Polynomials".

Go back to AARMS Menu