Joseph Alphonso Pierce

Quick Info

10 August 1902
Waycross, Ware County, Georgia, USA
18 September 1969
San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, USA

Joseph Pierce was the sixth African American to be awarded a Ph.D. in mathematics. He taught mathematics in universities for most of his career, undertook research in statistics, and is most famed for the classic book Negro Business and Business Education (1947) which was reprinted almost 50 years after it was first published.


Joseph Pierce was the son of the African American Methodist minister William Arthur Pierce (born August 1854) and his wife Fannie L McGraw (born November 1876), the daughter of a farmer. William and Fannie Pierce had married on 27 September 1899 and at the time of the 1900 census were living in Waycross with two of William Pierce's daughters from a previous marriage, Mary B Pierce (born October 1884) and Beatrice A Pierce (born January 1887). William Arthur Pierce died when Joseph was a child and by the time of the 1910 census he was living in Waycross with his mother and his mother's two brothers Joseph C McGraw (born 1869) and William McGraw (born 1871) who were both in the "bicycle business."

Joseph Pierce's schooling was mostly in Waycross. At the time of the 1920 US census, he was still living with the McGraw family in Waycross but his mother is not living with them - we assume that she has died before 1920 but we have not found the date of her death. In 1921 Pierce was awarded a diploma from Atlanta University High School and later in this same year he entered Atlanta University and graduated with an A.B. degree in the social sciences in 1925. Atlanta University had opened in 1869 with the aim of developing talented African Americans, providing inspiration and leadership for African American communities, and training teachers. Because of the low level of education for African Americans at this time, the University provided a programme for high school students to bring them up to the standard for university entrance. This was the programme that Pierce studied and gained entrance to the University with his diploma in 1921 [2]:-
All preparatory males were required to take industrial training classes ... To meet the goal of providing leadership in the community, Atlanta University sponsored the Atlanta Conference each summer so that Atlanta University students met with other educators and community leaders to discuss a specific problem relating to the Black experience such as "The Negro in Business" or "The Negro Artisan."
During his time at Atlanta University, Pierce played for the College Football team named the Crimson Hurricane playing in a steel grey and crimson strip. The team was very successful and, in 1922, won all six matches played. In 1922 the Savannah Tribune argued that the level of sportsmanship of Atlanta University's football team was higher than that of other teams. Pierce wanted to continue his football career and applied for the position of assistant football coach at Texas College in Tyler, Texas. He was appointed to the position but, when he arrived at Texas College he was asked if he had studied any mathematics in his undergraduate degree. When he said he had taken a statistics course, he was asked to teach mathematics at Texas College as an instructor in mathematics in addition to coaching football.

Pierce greatly enjoyed teaching mathematics at Texas College and in 1927 he returned to Atlanta to take up the position of chair of the Department of Mathematics at Booker T Washington High School. This school, the first public high school for African Americans in the state of Georgia, had opened in September 1924. Pierce now worked for a Master's Degree in mathematics from the University of Michigan and he was awarded this degree in 1930. From 1930 to 1938, he was a professor of mathematics at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. This college had been founded in 1873 for African American students and was affiliated with the United Methodist Church [9]:-
Truly a pioneer in the educational arena, Wiley College took the leadership role in reorganising Black schools of higher education and in 1929, renamed itself Wiley College, dropping the use of the word "University".  It was at this time the high school and trade school were discontinued.  Wiley College was recognised in 1933 as an "A" class college by the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools of the southern states.  This marked the first time any Black school had ever been rated by the same agency and standards as other universities.
The head of mathematics at Wiley College was the African American Ralph Asbury Edmondson (1890-1953). Born in Lees, South Carolina, on 19 January 1890, Edmondson had been awarded a B.A. from Lincoln University in 1920, and he was awarded an M.A. from Cornell University in 1931. He had been a professor of mathematics at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College from 1921 to 1924 before becoming Head of the Department of Mathematics at Wiley College in 1925. He collaborated with Pierce and they co-authored two books Elementary Mathematics and Applications (1934) and Introductory College Mathematics and Applications (1937).

On 15 October 1933 Pierce married Juanita H George (1912-2003) in Marion, Texas. The daughter of the barber Cornelius N George and his wife Pearl L Witherspoon, Juanita had been born on 12 October 1912 in Mitchell County, Texas. She had attended I M Terrell High School, Fort Worth, and graduated cum laude from Fisk University in Nashville in 1932. Joseph and Juanita Pierce had one son, Joseph Alphonso Pierce, Jr. who was born in Marshall, Harrison County, Texas, on 13 August 1935. Juanita Pierce went on to earn a Master's Degree and a doctorate in Health and Physical Education from New York University. She taught at the universities where her husband was employed, namely Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia, and Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas.

Pierce wanted to continue developing his mathematical skills and while working at Wiley College he undertook research for his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. He was advised by Harry Clyde Carver (1890-1977). Carver, who had been made a full professor at the University of Michigan in 1936, had founded the journal Annals of Mathematical Statistics in 1930. Paul Sumner Dwyer (1901-1982) taught at Antioch College but had undertaken research for a Ph.D. during the summers of 1927, 1930, 1933 and during session 1934-35 advised by Carver, and was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of Michigan in 1936 for his thesis Combined expansions of products of symmetric power sums and sums of symmetric power products with application to sampling. Dwyer was appointed as a research assistant at the University of Michigan in 1937. In his thesis (published as [14]) Pierce wrote:-
Many thanks are due Prof P S Dwyer, to whom the writer is greatly indebted for advice and encouragement.
Pierce was awarded a Ph.D. for his thesis A Study of a Universe of n Finite Populations with Application to Moment-Function Adjustments for Grouped Data in 1938. He introduces the paper [14] which contains the results of his thesis as follows:-
The object of this paper is to study the case of a universe of n finite populations, considering both the expectations of population moment-functions and the moments of sample moments, and to make applications of the results which may be of interest to mathematical statisticians. The sampling formulas which are derived reduce to the usual infinite or finite sampling formulas, under appropriate assumptions. Also a method is given whereby finite sampling formulas may be transformed into the corresponding infinite sampling formulas.
He gives the following conclusions [14]:-
1. The derivation of general and specific formulas for the expected values of population moment-functions.

2. The derivation of generalised sampling formulas under the condition that samples of n are formed by selecting one variate from each population.

3. Methods for the transformation of generalised sampling formulas into the corresponding infinite and finite sampling formulas.

4. A method for the transformation of infinite sampling formulas into the corresponding finite sampling formulas.

5. A demonstration of the fact that adjustment formulas for moment-function of grouped data involve central moments of a rectangular distribution.

6. A general formula for the expected value of the ith moment of grouped data.

7. New adjustment formulas for central moments of grouped data.

8. New adjustment formulas for Thiele semi-invariants of grouped data.

9. A method for the evaluation of the term ..., which appears in the precise adjustment formula for the variance.
Samuel S Wilks writes [24]:-
In this paper the author derives general formulas for mean values of sample moments in samples of size n formed by drawing each element from a different finite population. He verifies that under the appropriate conditions these general formulas reduce to various known formulas such as those for repeated sampling from a single finite population, those for sampling from a single infinite population, etc. He then applies his results to the problem of determining the mean values of moments from samples of grouped data, deriving formulas for correcting bias (due to grouping) of central moments and Thiele semi-invariants.
We note that when Pierce was awarded a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1938 he became the sixth African American to be awarded such a degree. The five before him were Elbert Frank Cox (Cornell University, 1925), Dudley Weldon Woodard (University of Pennsylvania, 1928), William Schieffelin Claytor (University of Pennsylvania, 1933), Walter Richard Talbot (University of Pittsburgh, 1934), and Reuben Roosevelt McDaniel (Cornell University, 1938).

After the award of his Ph.D., in 1938 Pierce returned to Atlanta University where he was appointed professor of mathematics. In 1939, while continuing with his duties as a professor, he was appointed as project supervisor for the National Youth Administration in Georgia. While in Atlanta, Pierce's son attended Oglethorpe Elementary School. Pierce's wife Juanita also taught at Atlanta University. In 1944 Pierce published On the Summation of Progressions Useful in Time Series Analysis. The paper begins [15]:-
It was pointed out by F A Ross that summations of progressions find useful application "in time series analysis where straight lines and more complex curves are fitted as secular trends." Ross presented formulas for the first six powers of the first t natural numbers and of the first t odd natural numbers. He also gave supplementary formulas to be used in fitting a secular trend when the mean of time is taken midway in the time series. These formulas were derived by elementary algebra methods which require a separate and individual derivation for each formula. The purpose of this paper is to present recursion formulas for sums of progressions which may be used to extend easily the list of formulas given by Ross to include those of higher order.
It was during his time at Atlanta University that Pierce did the work for which he is best known today. From 1 February 1944 to 1 February 1946, Atlanta University and the National Urban League conducted a research study of business and business education among African-Americans. It was financed by the General Education Board, and Pierce served as research director of the project. The project was described in a paper by Franklin O Nichols, Southern Regional Director of the National Urban League, and Pierce [11]:-
The first phase of the study consists of the application of a short schedule, designed to secure basic information from all businesses in each of the seventeen cities. Then, on the basis of the returns of these short forms, a representative sample in each city is to be selected and from these samples extensive information relative to business facilities, practices and problems will be obtained. Concurrently, with these activities schedules for employees and consumers will be applied to samples of these classes. Field investigations are taking place in the following cities: Birmingham; Baltimore Montgomery; Washington; Atlanta; Louisville; Savannah; Philadelphia; Nashville; Cincinnati; Memphis; St Louis; Durham; Houston; Richmond; New Orleans; Hampton area. In each locality the local director has direct responsibility for the local activities. The active cooperation of local labour, trade, business, educational, civic and professional organisations is secured through the formation of a local committee made up of representatives of these organisations. The Local Director obtains assistance, when needed, from this committee on all matters relating to the local study.
In 1944 Pierce addressed a meeting in Atlanta attended by representatives of government, education, the National Negro Business League, and the National Negro Insurance Association. One of the topics he addressed was education:-
On the eve of the stock market crash of 1929, there were twelve colleges offering four-year courses leading to bachelors degrees in business studies. Today [in 1944], there are twenty-eight colleges offering four-year courses, and twenty-two of these had opened business departments since 1926. ... In their desire to be "different" from white colleges, many Negro colleges have made a complete "mess" of the cultural side of their business curricula by devoting minimum attention to it. If white colleges are gradually realising the need for broad training by requiring at least two years of liberal education for their business students, there is all the more reason why Negro colleges place even a greater emphasis on this aspect of their curricula. This emphasis is necessary for counterbalancing, so far as it is humanly possible, the defective environmental background of Negro students who are precluded from getting the full benefits of the social heritage of our white compatriots. Such education ... will prove helpful to the student in building up a well-integrated personality. There appears to be no doubt in the minds of educators that specialisation in the early stage of a student's college career is dangerous as it tends to make him narrow and one-track minded.
Pierce published the book Negro Business and Business Education, containing the results of the study, in 1947. This was a remarkable piece of work which became a classic and was reprinted with an Introduction in 1995. For more information about this work, including extracts from several reviews of the 1947 edition, see THIS LINK.

On 1948 Pierce was appointed Professor of Mathematics and Chairman of the Department of Mathematics at Texas State University for Negroes. This university had been founded as 'Houston Colored Junior College' in 1927, becoming 'Houston College for Negroes' in 1934, then 'Texas State University for Negroes' in 1947. In 1951 it received the name it is known by today, namely 'Texas Southern University'. While continuing to teach mathematics, Pierce became chairman of the Division of Natural Physical Sciences in 1950 and Dean of Graduate Studies in 1952 [26]:-
Admission to graduate programmes had been denied to blacks at southern universities until 1948, when Texas State College for Negroes was granted authority to confer the master's degree. Thus there was a pent-up demand for graduate degrees, particularly in education, and when Pierce took over as dean of graduate studies, he faced burgeoning enrolment and faculty overloads. He was particularly effective in recruiting senior professors from nearby universities to assist with this demand for graduate faculty. Master's degrees conferred by Texas Southern University rose dramatically, from ninety-five in 1948 to a peak of 304 in 1955. In the first ten years of Pierce's tenure as dean, Texas Southern University conferred a total of 2,287 master's degrees and 3,663 bachelor's degrees. In 1963, when the Manned Spacecraft Center was established near Houston, Pierce and B A Turner, Texas Southern University's dean of technology, were released from teaching duties for eighteen months to recruit minority engineers for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Pierce began to suffer poor health but served as President of Texas Southern University in 1966-67. This was an unfortunate time to be president with student sit-ins and protests, both about civil rights and the Vietnam War, making Pierce's task hard. He retired in 1967 becoming a consultant to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Pierce and his wife went to San Antonio to retire, but sadly he did not have long to enjoy retirement. Following his death at the age of 67, he was buried in Paradise North Cemetery, Houston, Harris County, Texas.

Juanita Pierce died in 2003 and was buried beside her husband in Paradise North Cemetery. We give a short extract from the resolution [20]:-
A noted advocate of education for women, [Juanita George Pierce] was the founder and long-time head of Texas Southern University's Women's Department of Health and Physical Education and was a fixture on the Texas Southern University campus for many years; she was a devoted member of St Philip's Episcopal Church and enjoyed spending time with friends and neighbours and playing bridge with the ladies of the Five O'clock Bridge Club. Juanita George Pierce was a woman of integrity, honour, and intelligence, and although she will be missed by all who knew her, her spirit will live on through her legacy of success and through the many individuals whose lives she touched ...
Finally, let us give a few details about the career of Joseph Alphonso Pierce Jr. He [18]:-
... graduated from Jack Yates High School, in Houston, Texas in 1952. He joined Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and Beta Kappa Chi National Scientific Honor Society in 1955 at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas where he received his B.S. degree in chemistry in 1957, and his father Joseph Pierce, Sr. served as dean of the graduate school in 1952; and later, president in 1967. He earned his M.D. degree in medicine in 1961 from Meharry Medical College of Medicine, in Nashville, Tennessee. Pierce completed his internship at GW Hubbard Hospital of Meharry College of Medicine. Pierce entered the United States Army in 1962. He completed a residency in anesthesiology at Brooke General Hospital/Fort Sam Huston in San Antonio in 1967, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and he completed a tour of duty in West Germany from 1967 to 1970. Then, in 1970, Pierce received his Texas State medical license and entered into private practice with Anesthesia Consultants in San Antonio, and joined the American Medical Association.

References (show)

  1. W Alderson, Review: Negro Business and Business Education, by Joseph A Pierce, Phylon (1940-1956) 8 (4) (1947), 382-383.
  2. Atlanta University Atlanta, Georgia 1869 (1867)-1988, America's Lost Colleges.
  3. J S Butler, Introduction, in Joseph A Pierce, Negro Business and Business Education (Springer Science + Business Media, 1995).
  4. Dr Joseph A Pierce, Amistad Research Center.
  5. Ex-Prexy of TSU dies at 67, Chicago Daily Defender (27 September 1969).
  6. H N Fitzhugh, Review: Negro Business and Business Education, by Joseph A Pierce, The Journal of Negro Education 17 (4) (1948), 497-500.
  7. A L Harris, Review: Negro Business and Business Education, by Joseph A Pierce, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 260 (1948), 238-239.
  8. M C Hill, Review: Negro Business and Business Education, by Joseph A Pierce, Social Forces 26 (4) (1948), 482-483.
  9. History of Wiley College, Wiley College.
  10. New Book by Pierce Off The Press, The Atlanta University Bulletin (3) 60 (December 1947), 15-16.
  11. F O Nichols and J A Pierce, A Project to Study Business and Business Education Among Negroes, The Journal of Negro Education 14 (1) (1945), 102-105.
  12. E N Palmer, Review: Negro Business and Business Education, by Joseph A Pierce, American Journal of Sociology 54 (4) (1949), 83-384.
  13. J A Pierce, Negro Business and Business Education (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1947).
  14. J A Pierce, A Study of a Universe of n Finite Populations with Application to Moment-Function Adjustments for Grouped Data, The Annals of Mathematical Statistics 11 (3) (1940), 311-334.
  15. J A Pierce, On the Summation of Progressions Useful in Time Series Analysis, Journal of the American Statistical Association 39 (227) (1944), 387-389.
  16. Pierce, Joseph A. (Joseph Alphonso), 1902-, Social Networks and Archival Context.
  17. Joseph A Pierce, Mathematicians of the African Diaspora, The Mathematics Department of The State University of New York at Buffalo (2008).
  18. Joseph A Pierce Jr., Interview, The History Makers (8 June 2018).
  19. Juanita George Pierce, Obituary, Houston Chronicle (25 August 2003).
  20. Resolution no 209 of the House of Representatives of the 78th Texas Legislature, 2nd Called Session, Texas Legislature Online.
  21. J Smith, Pierce, Joseph Alphonso (1902-1969). Mathematician, Educator, College President, in Encyclopedia of African American Business (Updated and Revised Edition, 2nd Edition) (ABC-CLIO, 2017).
  22. J Talley, Pierce, Joseph A (Joseph Alphonso) (1902-1969), Amistad Research Center (2012).
  23. J Talley, Joseph A Pierce papers, 1928-1972, Amistad Research Center (2012).
  24. D Todd, Junita George Pierce,
  25. S S Wilks, Review: A Study of a Universe of n Finite Populations with Application to Moment-Function Adjustments for Grouped Data, by Joseph A Pierce, Mathematical Reviews MR0002743 (2, 109d).
  26. S C Williams, Joseph A Pierce Sr,
  27. T R Williams, Pierce, Joseph Alphonso, in H L Gates and E B Higginbotham (eds.), African American National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2013).
  28. T R Williams, Pierce, Joseph Alphonso, in J A Garraty and M C Cames (eds.), American National Biography (Oxford University Press, 1999).
  29. C G Woodson, Review: Negro Business and Business Education, by Joseph A Pierce, The Journal of Negro History 33 (1) (1948), 97-99.

Additional Resources (show)

Other pages about Joseph Pierce:

  1. Negro Business and Business Education

Cross-references (show)

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update July 2022