Beyond Banneker: Resources for Learning about Black Mathematicians

Benjamin Banneker, one of the first African American mathematicians. Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Banneker, one of the first African American mathematicians. Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Part of the reason Erica Walker wrote Beyond Banneker: Black Mathematicians and the Paths to Excellence was that she was tired of hearing the response “Are there any?” when she talked with people about her research on Black mathematicians. On my blog Roots of Unity, I just published a Q&A with Dr. Walker about the book. She helped me compile some resources about Black mathematicians so you can spare yourself the embarrassment of asking the question “Are there any?” the next time you’re talking with Dr. Walker! These resources include information about Black mathematicians throughout history as well as sites and organizations with opportunities for Black mathematicians and students today.

Probably the first place that comes to mind if you’ve ever gone looking for information about Black mathematicians is the Mathematicians of the African Diaspora page maintained by Scott Williams. In addition to profiles of hundreds of Black mathematicians, the site has several articles about the history of African and African American contributions to mathematics. In a similar vein, the Mathematical Association of America SUMMA (strengthening underrepresented minority mathematics achievement) program maintains an archive of biographies of mathematicians from underrepresented groups.

There are Black mathematicians sprinkled throughout other general math history sites. I particularly find the MacTutor archive and Agnes Scott College collection of biographies about women in mathematics useful. Grandma Got STEM, a blog about older women in STEM fields, has several entries about Black women, most recently Della Bell, a mathematician at Texas Southern University.

Of course, I must recommend Walker’s book Beyond Banneker: Black Mathematicians and the Paths to Excellence as a resource for learning about the experiences of Black mathematicians (If you don’t have the book yet, you can listen to her talk about her work on YouTube. If you’re a cheapskate like me, check out your local library. I have an n=1 study that shows a 100% success rate in convincing your library to buy it if you ask for it.) She suggested some of the references she used as she was writing her book, highlighting Pat Kenschaft’s work, James Donaldson’s chapter in A Century of Mathematics in America, and the recent paper “African-American Mathematicians and the Mathematical Association of America” (pdf) by Asamoah Nkwanta and Janet Barber.

I’ve written about Black mathematicians a few times on my blog. I wrote about Evelyn Boyd Granville twice (because mathematicians named Evelyn are great), and I’ve published interviews with Sudanese computer scientists Rasha Osman and African American mathematician Trachette Jackson. I recently saw another interview with Jackson for the Society for Mathematical Biology newsletter (pdf). Last year, number theorist Piper Harron’s thesis hit my math social media network like a flower-sprouting seed bomb, and I wrote about how it contrasts with other number theorists’ work. My co-blogger Anna mentioned it here as well.

Presh Talwalker wrote a post earlier this month about David Blackwell, the first Black tenured professor at Berkeley, and some of the work he did in game theory. I’ve also enjoyed recent press in the AMS Notices (pdf) and elsewhere about John Urschel, the Baltimore Ravens lineman and math nerd who is busting stereotypes about athletes and math. He just started graduate school at MIT in the offseason. And I’m ridiculously excited that there is a movie coming out in 2017 about Katherine Johnson, an African American mathematician who worked for NASA and helped get John Glenn into space.

The National Association of Mathematicians (NAM) and Conference for African American Researchers in Mathematical Sciences (CAARMS) are two good places to learn about opportunities for African American mathematicians and students. NAM often shares information about African American mathematicians on their facebook page.

Many educational organizations aim to encourage mathematics students from underrepresented groups. One that is near and dear to my heart because I used to live in Houston is the Cougars and Houston Area Math Program (CHAMP) at the University of Houston. Director Mark Tomforde has a guest post about it today at mathbabe.org.

As it is Black History Month, I have also seen resources about African Americans in other STEM fields. D.N. Lee, a biologist who writes on the Scientific American blog network, wrote a post about decolonizing STEM earlier this month. I also follow the @BlackandSTEM Twitter account and enjoy perusing the History Makers website, which has an excellent collection of video interviews with prominent African Americans in a wide variety of fields.

Do you know of other resources that should be added to this list? Have you written about Black mathematicians on your blog? Please share in the comments!

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