SIAM News Blog

Celebrating Black History Month

February is Black History Month in the United States! Celebrated annually, it is a dedicated time to honor the achievements by African Americans and the central role they play in U.S. history. 

SIAM honors countless African American mathematicians for their powerful contributions and achievements. In celebration of Black History Month, we want to highlight a selection of the many instrumental African American heroes in mathematics.

Mary Jackson. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Mary Jackson

American mathematician

Mary Jackson earned degrees in mathematics and physical science at the Hampton Institute. She worked as an aerospace engineer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which in 1958 was succeeded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Jackson retired from the NASA Langley Research Center in 1985 as an Aeronautical Engineer after 34 years. Learn more about Mary Jackson.


Charles L. Reason. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Charles L. Reason


Charles L. Reason was a mathematician, linguist, and educator. In 1849, he became the first African-American university professor at a predominantly white college in the United States, teaching at New-York Central College, McGrawville. Learn more about Charles L. Reason.

Martha Euphemia Haynes. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Martha Euphemia Haynes

American mathematics educator

Martha Euphemia Haynes was an American mathematician and educator. She earned her Ph.D. in mathematics in 1943, thus becoming the first African American woman to gain a Ph.D. in mathematics. Learn more about Martha Euphemia Haynes.

David Blackwell. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

David Blackwell

American statistician

David Blackwell was an American statistician and mathematician who made significant contributions to game theory, probability theory, information theory, and Bayesian statistics. He was the first African American to be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences. Learn more about David Blackwell.

J. Ernest Wilkins Jr. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

J. Ernest Wilkins Jr.

American scientist

Jesse Ernest Wilkins Jr. was an African American nuclear scientist, mechanical engineer, and mathematician. In 1936, he entered the University of Chicago at the age of 13, becoming the university’s youngest student ever. Wilkins also worked at the University of Chicago Met Lab during the Manhattan Project. Learn more about J. Ernest Wilkins Jr.

Annie Easley. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Annie Easley

American computer scientist

Annie J. Easley was an African American computer scientist, mathematician, and rocket scientist. She worked for the Lewis Research Center of NASA, and its predecessor NACA. Easley analyzed rocket propulsion systems and battery technology. Learn more about Annie Easley.

Katherine Johnson. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Katherine Johnson

American mathematician

Katherine Johnson is an African American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. manned space flights. Learn more about Katherine Johnson.

Elbert Frank Cox. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Elbert Frank Cox

American mathematician

Elbert Frank Cox was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics. In 1930, he began as a professor at Howard University and became the head of their Department of Mathematics in 1954. Learn more about Elbert Frank Cox.

Dorothy Vaughan. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Dorothy Vaughan

American mathematician
Dorothy Vaughan was an African American mathematician and “human computer” who worked for NACA and NASA. She was the first African-American manager at NASA. Learn more about Dorothy Vaughan

SIAM also recognizes the ongoing struggle African Americans face for equality and inclusion, especially in STEM fields. Today, African Americans continue to be underrepresented in the STEM workforce. Below are some resources and networks that may be of interest to African Americans in mathematics of all ages.

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