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  News & Views

The Most Highly Cited Black Mathematicians

There are few black mathematicians holding professorships at U.S. universities. And even fewer are regularly cited by their peers in articles published in academic journals.

Longstanding beliefs in the academic world did concede that blacks were sentient creatures who were self-aware and capable of learning limited tasks. But academic orthodoxy in the United States held that Negroes were not capable of the abstract thinking and calculations that were necessary to do important work in mathematics.

Thomas Jefferson, the author of a famous document that proclaimed that "all men are created equal" at one point wrote a friend, "I have not yet found one of them [Negroes] who could solve the geometrical problems of Euclid." More than a century later L.M. Terman, the creator of the Stanford-Binet IQ test, concluded that the low-scoring racial minorities "cannot master abstractions."

Given these firm beliefs in the inherent incapacity of Negroes, it followed that there was little purpose in expending serious scholarly effort in preparing blacks for teaching or research in the most onerous and complex field of academic mathematics.

In this setting, what happened to the behavior of black people was predictable under accepted economic theory. Standard theory forecasts shortages of a product when there is no demand for it. Black people with intellectual potential in the field of mathematics behaved rationally. They quite sensibly did not seek out Ph.D.s in mathematics. Those who did often found that their research and ideas were not respected or even considered by their white peers. Above all, no serious academic journal was willing to publish their work.

It appears that the first-known publication of a mathematical paper by an African American in a U.S. journal was Dudley Weldon Woodard's article that appeared in a 1929 edition of Fundamenta Mathematicae. Woodard, the son of a U.S. postal worker, was born in Texas. He went to college at Wilberforce University in Ohio. He went on to earn a master's degree at the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Woodard taught mathematics at Tuskegee Institute, Wilberforce University, and later at Howard University, where he also served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Over the last half of the twentieth century blacks began to make some inroads in the field of academic mathematics. But the progress has proceeded at a snail's pace. According to JBHE research, as late as 1999 there were only four blacks teaching mathematics among the more than 900 faculty members of the mathematics departments of the nation's 25 highest-ranked universities. In 2003, the latest year for which complete data is available, only 16 of the 994 Ph.D.s awarded in mathematics by American universities went to blacks.

As a measure of the black presence in academic mathematics, JBHE conducted a citation count of the list of African-American mathematicians compiled by Professor Scott Williams of the University of Buffalo ( Using the data from Dr. Williams' extensive and highly informative research project, we identified 96 blacks who are currently teaching mathematics or in a closely related field at American colleges and universities. Of these, 26 are teaching at historically black colleges and universities.

JBHE took this list of 96 black mathematicians at U.S. colleges and universities and searched their names in the database of the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia (ISI). Each year ISI reviews hundreds of thousands of scholarly articles from thousands of academic journals published worldwide to determine how many times scholars had been cited by their peers in academic journals. We tabulated the results for the black mathematicians on our list.

Clifford V. Johnson, professor of physics at the University of Southern California, leads our rankings of the most highly cited black mathematicians. Professor Johnson is a theoretical physicist who works mainly with string theory, quantum gravity, gauge theory, and M-theory. He used mathematical tools to study objects such as black holes.

Professor Johnson, who was cited 65 times in academic journals in 2004, is a graduate of Imperial College, London University and holds a Ph.D. from Southampton University.

William A. Massey is the Edwin S. Wiley Professor of Operations Research and Financial Engineering at Princeton University. A native of Jefferson City, Missouri, Massey is a graduate of Princeton University and holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from Stanford University. For more than 20 years Professor Massey was a top engineer at Bell Laboratories before coming to Princeton in 2001. Dr. Massey has published more than 50 academic papers on applied probability analysis. He was cited 59 times in academic journals in 2004.

Emery N. Brown, a mathematical biologist, is director of the Neuroscience Statistics Research Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He also serves as an associate professor of anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School. His research is in the area of neural information coding, which uses mathematical techniques to decipher how neurons receive and transmit information.

Dr. Brown is a Harvard man to the core. He is a 1978 magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College. He holds a master's and Ph.D. in statistics from Harvard and is also a graduate of the Harvard Medical School. Dr. Brown is widely published in academic journals. He was cited 45 times by his peers in 2004, placing him third in the JBHE rankings.

Richard L. Baker is a professor of mathematics at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. His research interests are in operator algebras, particularly in non-selfadjoint operator algebras. He is also interested in quantum field theory and distributive artificial intelligence. He holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley and has published more than a dozen scholarly articles. His 37 citations in 2004 place him fourth in the JBHE rankings.

• In fifth place in JBHE's rankings of the most highly cited black mathematicians is Professor Carl Prather of Virginia Tech. A graduate of Trinity College, Professor Prather holds a master's degree and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University. He has published more than 20 scholarly papers in academic journals on subjects such as complex analysis and operator theory.

David Blackwell, the professor emeritus of statistics at the University of California at Berkeley, is perhaps the most highly cited and well-known black mathematician of all time. By the age of 22 he had earned bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Illinois. In 1941 he was the seventh African American to ever hold a Ph.D. in mathematics. At one time Professor Blackwell was the only African-American member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Professor Blackwell is now 86 years old. Yet his work is still highly regarded by colleagues both black and white. In 2004 he was cited 20 times, good for seventh place on our list of the most highly cited black mathematicians.

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