The National Association of Mathematicians

Founded in 1969

The origin of the National Association of Mathematicians was the informal 'Black and Third World Mathematicians' group led by Johnny Houston and Scott Williams, which met at the American Mathematical Society meeting in New Orleans on Sunday 26 January 1969. Johnny Houston writes that the group discussed [4]:-
... "where do we go from here;" as a group, as possibly an organisation, and as a positive force that will make a difference in the mathematical sciences community in the USA, and indeed, in the world. This force would be a clear and omnipresent voice for issues, ideas, perspectives and for persons that did not enjoy such a voice in the past. This force would advocate inclusion and not exclusion. This force would sit around the conference tables and the banquet tables of the mathematical services community and not permit itself to be isolated or separated from the mainstream. This force's ultimate mission ... : To promote excellence in the mathematical sciences; and To promote the mathematical development of under-represented American minorities.
In April 1969 Walter Talbot, perhaps the main driving force in the early years of the Association's development, organised a meeting at Morgan State College which proved very important in the founding of the National Association of Mathematicians. Talbot was the director of a Mathematics Curriculum Conference, financed by the Ford Foundation [6]:-
The purpose of the Conference was to discuss matters relating to curriculum, with a view toward improving the effectiveness of the individual mathematics programs at black colleges.
Asamoah Nkwanta and Janet E Barber write [5]:-
Approximately thirty mathematics professors were present with great capability to enhance research, advance curricula, and influence change in private and public sectors, as well as the scientific community in general. Not even knowing of the existence of other Ph.D. mathematicians, many of these professors were happy to meet each other and have discussions as kindred scientists. However, others who were not African-American, Richard Anderson and R Creighton Buck of the Mathematical Association of America, were in attendance at the conference as representatives from the MAA's Committee on the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics.
There were many sporadic meetings in 1970, mathematicians from all under-represented minorities were encouraged to join the group, and the name National Association of Mathematicians (NAM) was established at the Mathematical Association of America's 1970 summer meeting in Laramie, Wyoming. Frank James was elected the first President in 1970 with Walter Talbot became the first vice-president. Etta Falconer became the first administrative secretary. She attended her first national mathematics meeting in 1970 and writes [2]:-
My first national mathematics meeting was in San Antonio in 1970. What an experience. I was a part of a very large professional group. I was fascinated by the many short talks and the major talks. I was amazed at how people lounged around outside the meeting rooms and just talked. I did not realise at first how mathematically productive this was. I was unaware of the committee meetings that were also being held. It was enough that I could hear a lot of mathematics and meet my new friends again.
In 1975 the NAM's Annual Panel, the NAM's Business Meeting and the NAM's Board of Directors Meeting all begun and the NAM began to hold its annual National Meeting in conjunction with the annual Joint Winter Mathematics Meetings of the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America.

In 1980 the NAM established its Claytor Lecture. It was delivered at the Joint Winter Mathematics Meetings in January in honour of William W S Claytor (1908-1967) the first nationally recognised African American research mathematician. Claytor was the third African American to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics (1933). The lecture was later renamed the Claytor-Woodard Lecture. Dudley Weldon Woodard (1881-1965) was the second African American to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics (1928). Woodard established the M.S. degree program in mathematics at Howard University in 1929, guaranteeing Howard's mathematical program as the pinnacle for studying mathematics among the Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He was the thesis supervisor for many of Howard's M.S. degree students, including William Claytor. Each year the National Association of Mathematicians invites a mathematical scientist or educator who exemplifies the spirit of Claytor and Woodard in their concerted efforts to advancing mathematical research for underrepresented American minorities.

For details of the Claytor-Woodard Lecture, see THIS LINK.

In the early 1990s, the NAM established a conference for undergraduate students called the NAM's Undergraduate MATHFest. This three-day weekend meeting aims to enhance the development of American minority students.

In 1994 the NAM was 25 years old and it established a number of different awards.
  1. Lifetime Achievement Award. The Award is to honour distinguished mathematical professionals whose professional lives over a period of twenty-five years or longer have been exemplary - par excellence and worthy of emulating. Winners of this award are
    David Blackwell (1994)
    J Ernest Wilkins, Jr. (1994)
    Lee Lorch (1995)
    Evelyn Boyd Granville (1996)
    Charles Bell (1997)
    Clarence Stephens (1998)
    Johnny L Houston (1999)
    Eleanor Dawley Jones (2001)
    Jacqueline Brannon Giles (2015)
    William A. Hawkins (2016)
    Nagambal Shah (2017)
    Rudy Lee Horne, Jr. (2018)
    Carolyn Mahoney (2018)

  2. David Harold Blackwell Lectures. The MAA-NAM David Blackwell Lecture was established in 1994 with an inaugural address by David Harold Blackwell himself. Each year National Association of Mathematicians invites a mathematical researcher who exemplifies the spirit of Blackwell in both personal achievement and service to the mathematical community. The Blackwell Lecturer gives an hour-long lecture, suitable for an audience of undergraduate students with a strong interest in conducting research in the mathematical sciences, which will promote an understanding of mathematics. It is delivered at the Mathematical Association of America's MathFest meeting.

    For details of the David Blackwell Lecture, see THIS LINK.

  3. J Ernest Wilkins Lectures. The J Ernest Wilkins Lecture series, inaugurated by the National Association of Mathematicians in 1994, was named in honour of Jesse Ernest Wilkins who gave the first lecture in the series. It is given annually at the NAM Undergraduate MathFest, the first lecture being at the fourth such conference.

    For details of the J Ernest Wilkins Lecture, see THIS LINK.

  4. Albert Turner Bharucha-Reid Lecture. The Albert Turner Bharucha-Reid Lecture series was inaugurated by the National Association of Mathematicians in 1994 during their year-long "Twenty Fifth Year Observance." It is named in honour of Albert Turner Bharucha-Reid. The inaugural lecture was given by Professor Tepper Gill of Howard University who had written his Ph.D. dissertation under the direction of Professor Bharucha-Reid. The Lecture is given annually at the Faculty Conference on Research and Teaching Excellence.

    For details of the Albert Turner Bharucha-Reid Lecture, see THIS LINK.
Another important way of encouraging young mathematicians from the African American community was the introduction of the "Presentations by Recipients of Recent Ph.D.'s" introduced in 1989. Sponsored by the NAM, these presentations take part at the Joint Winter Meetings. The first session was at the Phoenix meeting when seven presentations were given. The papers of the speakers were published in the NAM Proceedings within ten weeks of the presentations being given.

In the mid 1990s, it was named the 'Granville-Browne Session of Presentations by Recent Doctoral Recipients' after Evelyn Boyd Granville and Marjorie Lee Browne. Since 2002 it has been named the 'Haynes-Granville-Browne Session of Presentations by Recent Doctoral Recipients'. The name added is that of Martha Euphemia Lofton Haynes. The 2002 meeting, in San Diego, California was organised and hosted by William A Massey of Princeton University. There were seven presentations at this session.

The main activities of the NAM are now as follows:
  1. Conducts an annual National Meeting in January in conjunction with the Joint Mathematics Meetings.
  2. Supports an annual invited address at the Joint Mathematical Summer Meetings.
  3. Sponsors an Undergraduate MATHFest; an annual conference for underrepresented minorities supported by a grant from the National Security Agency.
  4. Sponsors an annual faculty conference on research and teaching excellence.
  5. Sponsors a Summer Institute in Computational Science for undergraduate mathematics majors and selected faculty.
  6. Publishes a quarterly newsletter.
We note that this article is written in 2019, the year in which the National Association of Mathematicians celebrates its 50th Anniversary. It has run the NAM "Golden Anniversary" Campaign since January 2017 attempting to establish a fund which will allow its activities to be supported in the years ahead. The Association states:-
During the Golden Anniversary Campaign, NAM hopes to achieve significant membership increases, doubling the number of Regular Members and increasing the number of Life Members by at least 50% as well as increasing abundantly student membership!
We end with a quote from Terrence Blackman, a professor at Medgar Evers College:-
NAM is important because its birth is rooted in an enduring question for African Americans in general and for underrepresented mathematicians, as a community, in particular: "where do we go from here?" For me the response of those gathered there in 1969 echoes and resonates across the decades: We must promote excellence in the mathematical sciences in the United States and the world and we must embrace our role as a voice for issues, ideas, perspectives and for persons that did not enjoy such a voice. We must aim to be part of the mainstream and be an advocate for inclusion; we must be advocates for all who desire to learn mathematics and to contribute to the community of mathematical scientists.

Visit the society website.

References (show)

  1. J L Houston, The History of NAM; the First Thirty Years (1969-1999) (National Association of Mathematicians, 2000).
  2. E Z Falconer, Views of an African American Woman on Mathematics Meetings, in A Century of Mathematical Meetings (American Mathematical Soc., 1996), 79-82.
  3. D M Hill, A personal history of the origins of the National Association of Mathematicians' "Presentations by Recipients of Recent Ph.D.'s", DIMACS Series in Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science 34 (1997), 187-.
  4. J L Houston, A Brief History of the National Association of Mathematicians, Inc. 1969 - NAM - 1999, in Nathaniel Dean, Cassandra M McZeal and Pamela J Williams (eds.), African Americans in Mathematics II: Fourth Conference for African-American Researchers in the Mathematical Sciences, June 16-19, 1998, Rice University, Houston, Texas (American Mathematical Society, 1999), 139-
  5. A Nkwanta and J E Barber, African American Mathematicians and the Mathematical Association of America.
  6. A J Scavella, On the Mathematics Curriculum in Black Colleges, American Mathematical Monthly 77 (3) (1970), 297-298.

Last Updated November 2019