DEVELOPING THE UNDERREPRESENTED IN MATHEMATICS

While sitting in my office at Clark Atlanta University between classes around the middle of October 1990, I received a call from Dr Gloria F Gilmer of Math Tech, Inc, Milwaukee, Wisconsin requesting an interview of me. She said the interview would concern my developing African Americans in mathematics. I agreed and on 22 October 1990 the interview began. Dr Gilmer's first question was: "Have you any idea of the number of students you have influenced to pursue the study of mathematics?" In response to this question and a series of related ones I said: "Yes. When I came to Atlanta University in September 1957, there were 2 graduate students in mathematics. At the end of that first year, there were eight, almost all from the undergraduate schools in the Atlanta University Center. Over the next two years, following the Soviet's launching of Sputnik I-the first satellite in space-a lot of excitement was generated about our mathematics program. With assistance from the National Science Foundation, we were able to support about 15 new students each academic year and we attracted nearly one hundred during the summers. Within three to four years we had about forty regular graduate students. Between 1957 and 1963, we actually awarded 109 masters degrees in mathematics. About 40% eventually went on to receive PhD's in mathematics or mathematics education. Most students in this group earned degrees in mathematics. Approximately 100 African Americans in the country with PhD's in mathematics or mathematics education can be traced back to our alumni from 1957 to 1963. Those persons went all over the country, particularly to colleges and universities in the South." Dr Gilmer remarked: "That is a truly incredible record!" The interview continued to completion with a part of it being published in UME (Undergraduate Mathematics Education) TRENDS, a publication of the American Mathematical Society, in the January 1992 issue, but recently the entire interview, entitled DEVELOPING AFRICAN AMERICANS IN MATHEMATICS, was published by Dr Clinton Crawford of Sankofa World Publishers on the web.

That interview caused me to look back over my life to uncover some of the societal influences, which have shaped my education, my will and way to educate; and which, indeed, have helped me to effectively develop underrepresented students in mathematics. Briefly this is what I have uncovered:

I was born as Lonnie Cross two months early in a small three-room shotgun house on the side of a ditch at 4:00 AM on 22 May 1927, delivered by a midwife, in Bessemer, Alabama. My informal education from birth was obtained at the feet of my illiterate but very smart stepfather, my seventh grade educated mother, and some of the wise members of my neighborhood community. These informal teachers inculcated into me quite early in my life a very strong sense of right and wrong.

My formal schooling began in the public schools of Bessemer, Alabama and Washington, DC, where I graduated in June 1945 with honors from Dunbar High School, known for being the premier producer of Black professionals and academic doctorates. From Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in June 1949 I obtained in three years my AB degree with honors (salutatorian of my class), having majors in Chemistry and Mathematics and minors in French and Physics, in spite of the fact I served honorably one year in the Army Air Force from February 1946 to February 1947; in June 1951 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) the MS degree in Mathematics with a minor in Philosophy; and in September 1955 from Cornell University the PhD degree in Mathematical Analysis, with minors in Abstract Algebra and Topology.

After receiving the PhD from Cornell in late September 1955 I became the staff research mathematician at the Metals Research Laboratory of the Electro-Metallurgical Company in Niagara Falls, NY. As such I did not know what in particular the scientists were working on. I was completely unaware that nuclear research and the production of nuclear weapons were taking place therein until October 2000 when I was contacted by a researcher from Niagara Falls, who wanted to know what role I had played in the production of nuclear weapons in that Lab. I simply considered the scientists' verbalizations of their problems and suggested to them mathematical formulations thereof. I resigned in late December 1955 or early January 1956.

Because of the civil rights uprisings in Alabama, my home state, I turned my attention to the south and the struggles therein, and became in September 1956 an assistant professor of mathematics at Tuskegee Institute of Tuskegee, Alabama. I taught mathematics and courses in electrical engineering, wrote articles for newspapers in the northeast on the unfolding civil rights struggle in Alabama, and I remained there until May 1957. During that brief period of time a revolution occurred in the Tuskegee students' appetite for mathematics, reflected in their climbing through windows of academic buildings to get to the blackboards to do mathematics. In this regard, one evening at an Institute event the President of Tuskegee said to me: "We are not unaware of what you are doing here. We will remember you in the budget next year." I was happy but internally saddened, for I had already accepted the invitation from the President of Atlanta University, who had heard of me from his Tuskegee English professor sister, to chair its Department of Mathematics starting in September 1957. All I had done for the students at Tuskegee was to give them a glimpse of themselves as a people with a destiny and to teach them the language of mathematics, showed them that they could all excel if they had the desire to learn and the will to work hard, and pointed out to them that lack of a rounded background in mathematics was not a barrier to mathematical success, for whatever was missing could be supplied quickly and humanely.

When my mother in Bessemer, Alabama informed me of the offer of a professorship at Alabama State College in Montgomery, Alabama for the school year 1956-1957 from the President of the College, I had already accepted the position at Tuskegee. The Alabama State position was the one I really wanted. To Be in Montgomery where lived and worked E D Nixon, the local NAACP President, who initiated the Montgomery bus boycott protest, Rev Martin Luther King, Rev Ralph David Abernathy, Dr Lawrence D Reddick, History Professor at the College and biographer of Dr King. However, after contacting the College President, I agreed to be a visiting professor of mathematics at the College during the summer of 1957. Distinctly I remember teaching a calculus class, from which a few years later I got a very good graduate student at Atlanta University, but I continued writing newspaper articles about the ongoing civil rights struggle.

Upon my arrival in September 1957 as Associate Professor of Mathematics and Chairman of the Department of Mathematics at Atlanta University, I found two students, but by the end of my first year there were eight, coming primarily from the colleges in the Atlanta University Center. With the revision of all graduate mathematics courses and streamlining the curriculum, the core of which was patterned after that at MIT, with the reintroduction of a vibrant humane learning and teaching environment, and with support from the National Science Foundation and from the University itself, our mathematics program grew very rapidly during the academic years and during the summers. Because of this growth, I was allowed to hire another graduate mathematics professor, but due to the limited number of Black PhD mathematicians at the time we brought this new professor from New Delhi, India; and he quickly became a copy of me. We traveled to mathematics meetings together, often carrying students with us. We made history in April 1960 when he, two of our graduate students (one white and one black) and I walked out in protest of a regional meeting of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), at which I was scheduled to present a research mathematics paper in the first general session, in Columbia, SC, because the Hotel refused to honor our confirmed reservations, except for our white graduate student, and additionally we were told that we could not eat in the Hotel but we could attend and participate in all of the meetings therein. That walk out was widely publicized throughout the country; and, indeed, it later played a part in genuinely enforcing the MAA's national policy of non-discrimination in all its meetings.

However, it was the high quality of our work, our mathematics colloquia, to which we invited to speak nationally known scholars that included Malcolm X, and the brilliance of our students, who were beginning to come from various parts of the USA and from as far away as Hong Kong outside, that moved the University President to ask us in the Mathematics Department to prepare to offer the PhD degree in mathematics, the first department in the University to be asked to do so. Realizing that we would have to grow our own mathematicians, we began sending our students to some of the best graduate schools in America-Cornell, University of Iowa, University of Chicago, Purdue, University of Illinois-at Champaign-Urbana, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Rutgers, University of California-at Berkeley. During the period from 1957 to 1963 of the 109 students awarded MS degrees in mathematics 78 wrote their theses under my supervision. My first student, a Chinese from Hong Kong, to receive the PhD in mathematics got it from Cornell in 1963.

Because of my active participation in the struggle to bring down Jim Crow segregation in Atlanta and that of many of my students to do the same, the President of Atlanta University called me in a public meeting a communist but he apologized when I stood and protested such labeling without justification. Because of the same type activity on my part, the Ku Klux Klan on the night of 1 May 1960 burned a 5 foot or more cross directly in front of the door of my house and later on 10 December 1960 the Klan picketed the Atlanta Journal and Constitution protesting its not carrying a story about me, whom they had labeled a dangerous rabble rouser, concerning my advocating group self defense against Klan attacks in our neighborhoods in a speech I had given in a town hall meeting at Atlanta University a few days earlier. Malcolm X and Jeremiah X (the Muslim Minister of Atlanta) came to my house, gave me copies of the material being passed out, and informed me of what was going on with the Klan picketing.

Although in the spring of 1963 I was promoted to Professor of Mathematics with tenure, I left the University in September 1963. I was very happy, but also very sad. Happy because I had a new world of opportunity to reach and teach the masses the truth, but I was sad because I was leaving behind many students who had become my friends and whom I would not be able to continue to teach, mentor and inspire.

In September 1963 I became the Minister (Imam) of Muhammad Mosque #4 and Director of Education at Muhammad University of Islam #4 in Washington, DC, and very shortly thereafter I was given the last name "Shabazz", meaning "the unconquerable" and "that which cannot be destroyed". Immediately we reestablished daily school from K to 12, operating inside the Mosque and in a purchased trailer, next door to the Mosque. We allowed children (Muslim and non-Muslim) to enter at age four, at three or three and a half, if the child could put on his/her own clothes, put on, tie and untie his/her shoes and could remain in school without crying. Naturally as a consequence we had children graduating at twelve and thirteen years of age. By 1965 and the early 1970's our school began to attract national as well as local attention, getting written about in the Phi Delta Kappan (an education research journal), the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Newsweek. In the late 1960's we reorganized grades K to 12 into 9 levels of study, eliminating unnecessary repetitions; and in 1973 we in Washington opened the first Islamic college in America on orders from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad to prevent our youth from entering the chaos engulfing higher education institutions at that time.

To help support our University we developed profitable businesses, which created jobs and provided opportunities for training and part-time work for our students. When I was called to Chicago in April 1975, following the passing of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad on 25 February 1975, Muhammad Mosque #4 had a little over 140 well paid employees, the adults of whom were able to adequately care for their families. In addition, there were about 400 students in the elementary and secondary division and around 50 students in the college division of Muhammad University of Islam #4.

From April 1975 to August 1975 I was the National Director of Education for the Nation of Islam (NOI). Shortly after I arrived in Chicago, I became Abdulalim Shabazz. From August 1975 to February 1979 I was the NOI's Director of Adult Education, with headquarters at Masjid Elijah Muhammad in Chicago, Illinois. From February 1979 to July 1982 I was the Resident Imam of Masjid Wali Muhammad of Detroit, Michigan, the Regional Imam of the Mid-West Region of the World Community of Islam in the West (WCIW, formerly the NOI), consisting of 13 mid-western states of the USA, and a member of the Council of Imams of the WCIW.

Moreover, from September 1975 to July 1982 I was an Adjunct Professor of Mathematics for the Union Graduate School, initially of Yellow Springs, Ohio, but then of Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1976 three of my PhD Students, who had chosen me as their major content professor, two in mathematics and one in social psychology, were awarded their PhD degrees by the Union Graduate School; and in 1981 my fourth PhD student was awarded his PhD in education from the Union Graduate School.

From September 1982 to June 1986 I was a professor of mathematics at Umm Al Qura University in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. During that period of time I touched the educational lives of many students, both male and female, some of whom went on to earn PhD's in mathematics. While living in Makkah, I began to use the name Abdulalim Abdullah Shabazz, in recognition of my father, whom I had given the name Abdullah.

In September 1986 I returned to Atlanta University as a tenured full professor of mathematics. When I arrived, I was terribly disappointed and disturbed to see large numbers of students enrolled in remedial mathematics courses at Clark College where I was being shared to teach two classes per term (as a means of recruiting for our graduate mathematics programs) and to see the very small number of declared mathematics majors. Immediately I began advocating teaching our students on a higher level. To my colleagues who said: "Our students are not ready.", I said: "Give me your very worst ones, and I will show you they can be taught." When I became Chair in 1990 of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Clark Atlanta University, which resulted from the consolidation of Atlanta University and Clark College in 1989, it had been publicly announced that the University intended to establish a PhD program in mathematics. I immediately began recruiting additional PhD mathematicians, established graduate teaching and research assistantships, and eliminated all the most demeaning remedial courses (those that carried no credit) and added rigor to all mathematics courses. In fall 1990 we had only 35 mathematics majors, but by fall 1995 we had more than 185. In February 1995 Math Horizons, a publication of the Mathematical Association of America, highlighted our Department as one of the ten best for students. At the May 1990 graduation no mathematics BA/BS degrees were granted and only 1 MS degree was awarded, but in May 1995 23 BA/BS degrees and 23 MS degrees were granted in mathematics. As a reward for my work of revitalizing mathematics at Clark Atlanta, I was rotated out of the chairmanship in August 1995 and replaced by a holder of a PhD in secondary education. That move by the Clark Atlanta Administration indicated clearly that establishing a PhD program in Mathematics was no longer an option nor desirable. However, I remained at the University for another two years-teaching and serving the wider community as a speaker and consultant.

In August 1997 I resigned from Clark Atlanta University to return to my alma mater, Lincoln University (PA), to serve as Chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science and as Lincoln's first Distinguished Professor of Mathematics with tenure. During my first year as Chair, I led a complete revision of the mathematics curriculum and established a 4-year BS/MS degrees program in mathematics. That was the first time in the then 144-year history of the University that a higher degree than a bachelor's degree in any science had been offered. Our graduate program in mathematics commenced in fall 1999 and our first two students graduated in May 2001 with MS degrees in mathematics. These two students were immediately offered complete support to pursue their doctorates in mathematics-one from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the other from Rutgers University. The latter was accepted and the student is now well into his PhD studies in computational chemistry. It is an irony of the first order that I was removed on 1 November 2000 as Interim Chair almost two months after I received on 7 September 2000 a 2000 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from President Bill Clinton in Washington, DC, and was replaced by a professor with no degrees in mathematics or in computer science. (I had become Interim Chair as all chairs had in June 2000.) Nevertheless, I continue teaching, doing research, and performing community service as Lincoln's Distinguished Professor of Mathematics.

In spite of the hard knocks I have received along life's highway I have been blessed to receive some very prestigious awards, among which are: Special recognition by the Mathematical Sciences Board of the National Academy of Sciences for making mathematics work for minorities in 1990, the 1992 Mentor Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for my leadership in efforts to increase the participation of women, minorities, and individuals with physical disabilities in science and engineering, the National Association of Mathematicians Distinguished Service Award in 1994, a Quality Education for Minorities Network in Mathematics, Science and Engineering (QEM/MSE) Giant in Science Award in 1995, the Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding work with African Americans in mathematics from the Association of African American Educators of California in 2001.

Defying the pressures of being overburdened, I have over time been able to write over a hundred articles and papers on Islam, Mathematics, Mathematics Education, and on the History and Philosophy of Mathematics for newspapers, magazines and books. In August 1977, my book, The Fundamentals of Islamic Education, was published by the Department of Adult Education of Masjid Elijah Muhammad, Chicago, Illinois. I have completed research for a book (more than 45 years in the making) in the history and philosophy of mathematics, to be entitled Mathematics At The Dawn, which reveals the role and contributions of the original people of Africa, Asia and the Americas in the development and origin of the mathematical sciences. I have presented parts of this projected book throughout the United States and abroad, and reference to it has appeared in many articles, books and magazines. One of my textbooks with two co-authors, titled Real Analysis: A First Course With An Inductive Approach, was published early in 2006 by Trafford Publishing of Canada, USA, Ireland, and UK.

What I consider my greatest achievements are my developed and developing students, who are prepared to face life in all of its beauty and ugliness. I am especially proud of my recent students and mentees, whom I have inspired to become experts in mathematics, some with and some without doctorates. Presently I know of at least 14 who have received PhD's in mathematics or computer science (3 of them) since 1998, and I know of at least 4 others who have completed all their work, except their dissertations for the PhD degree. This is what I have lived for, what I am living for, and what I shall continue to live for. This, indeed, is GRACE AMAZING.