An interview with

BY

GLORIA F. GILMER

(c) MATH TECH, INC. MILWAUKEE, WI

1991

Introduction I Atlanta University Years II Schooling III Family Life IV University Years V Research Interests VI On Teaching and Learning Mathematics VII Years as a Preacher VIII Years in Saudi Arabia IX Honors and Recognition X Mathematics and Politics

Although Historically Black Colleges and Universities enroll only 15% of the African American college students in the United States, they account for 50% of the baccalaureate degrees in mathematics earned by African Americans. Little appears in the literature about African Americans who are responsible for this outstanding achievement. Among them is Abdulalim Abdullah Shabazz. He and his former students define an informal network which provides professional leadership in mathematics and mathematics education on college and university campuses throughout the nation. The following interview was conducted by telephone on 22 October 1990 and is possibly the only extensive account of Dr. Shabazz and his achievements.

Q. | Have you any idea of the number of students you have influenced to pursue the study of mathematics? |

A. | 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! |

Q. | During this period, approximately how many advanced degrees in mathematics were awarded by Atlanta University? |

A. | Between 1957 and 1963, we actually awarded 109 masters degrees in mathematics. |

Q. | How many of these students went on to earn doctorate degrees? |

A. | About 40% eventually went on to receive PhD's in mathematics or mathematics education. Most students in this group earned degrees in mathematics. |

Q. | What has been the impact of Atlanta University on the pool of African Americans with advanced degrees in mathematics today? |

A. | Approximately 100 African Americans in the country with PhD's in mathematics 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. |

Q. | That is a truly incredible record! What happened during your 23 year absence from teaching relative to the production of African American mathematicians at Atlanta University? |

A. | During that period the educational climate changed substantially and the number of African American mathematicians declined sharply. Dr. J. Arthur Jones, Dr. Raymond Richardson, and Dr. Wallace Maryland were largely responsible for the continuity in development that did occur. |

Q. | Who were some of your students during the period from '57 to '63 or some of their students who are professionally active today? |

A. | I can name a number of them - Dr. Gladys Glass, Spelman; Dr. Benjamin Martin, Spelman; Dr. Arthur Jones, Morehouse; Dr. John Hall, Clark-Atlanta; Dr. Bettye Clark, Clark-Atlanta; Dr. Richie E. White, Fort Valley; Professor William E. Brodie, Florida A & M; Dr. Osiefield Anderson, Florida A & M; Dr. Prince Winston Armstrong, Southern; Dr. Wallace Maryland, Alabama State; Dr. Moses Clark, Alabama State; Dr. James Ginn, Texas Southern; Dr. Louis Dale, University of Alabama-Birmingham; Dr. Raymond Richardson, Tennessee State University; Dr. Walter Elias, Virginia State; Dr. Nathaniel Pollard, Virginia State University; Dr. Shirley McBay, Quality Education for Minorities; Dr. John Sanders, Chicago State University; Dr. Eddie C. Paramore, Jr., Tuskegee; Dr. J. Arthur Jones, President of Futura Technologies; Dr. Roderick E. Jackson, Virginia State University; Dr. Willie Hosley Christian, Auburn University; and Dr. Genevieve Knight, Coppin State College. |

Q. | I understand that you left Atlanta University in 1963, spent 19 years as a preacher, and four years teaching in Saudi Arabia before returning to Atlanta. How has the University changed over these years? |

A. | Tremendously! Now the University has merged with Clark College giving it an undergraduate school as well as a graduate school. That is a physical change but there was also a tremendous attitudinal change with regard to service to students. This shows up in the hard sciences the mathematics and mathematics-based sciences. There had been much neglect in both schools. For example, undergraduate students were being remediated to death. As a result of that remediation, the pipelines to higher mathematics, mathematics based sciences, engineering and the technologies were cluttered and almost completely plugged. That was the most disturbing change and it bothered me greatly. As a result, I preached and literally 'raised Cain' over time and eventually the undergraduate mathematics faculty voted to eliminate the most demeaning of the remedial courses. These were courses that carried no credit but we temporarily held on to those that carried credit. We hope to get rid of those in the next year or so because we do not believe that they are needed. |

Q. | What are some of those courses? |

A. | They are remedial courses that were given strange names like 'Quantitative And Analytical Thinking I' and 'Quantitative and Analytical Thinking II'. But the contents was nothing but elementary algebra or at the most, a first course high school algebra. So we changed to describe what it really is. The administrators were very upset about that but we maintained that we might as well call it what it is and not hide it under some fancy name. The second course presented some of the things for which one uses algebra, so we called that course 'Algebra and Some Applications'. In my opinion, those are still remedial courses and should have been taken in high school or junior high school. We hope to eliminate those in the next year or so. We would like to possibly create 2 tracks on the pre-calculus level. One would be one or two courses for the science people and the same for the non-science majors. But our basic attitude is that we can prepare any student, no matter how damaged he is for lack of training in mathematics before he gets to us. We can get that student ready for calculus in one or two semesters depending upon the amount of damage. If the person is normal, wants to learn, works hard, has a positive attitude about himself and his self esteem is not terribly damaged, we can have that person ready to take our regular calculus courses in at most two semesters. |

Q. | How does the mathematics program for science students differ from the program for non-science students? |

A. | It differs primarily in the applications that are considered by the teacher and in the book. Starting in September, we will be generating our own text materials and stop requiring our students to buy expensive textbooks. |

Q. | How many mathematics majors do you have at Clark Atlanta University now? |

A. | We have about 100 students from the freshman to the senior level who consider themselves majoring or having a concentration in mathematics. |

Q. | How many are African Americans? |

A. | All are African Americans except one who is white. |

Q. | What would it take to get more African American students into your program or programs like yours with strong track records for developing African American students? |

A. | We need more resources to attract and provide support for students who really want to learn. Last year, we received a grant to recruit and provide support for four new students at $10,000 per year for five years. Since we now have a program which leads to a bachelors and masters degrees in mathematics in four years, this stipend will carry the students through our masters degree program. |

Q. | Were there many African Americans applicants for this program? |

A. | Yes! We mailed announcements of our program in the sciences (chemistry, mathematics, physics, and computer science) all over the south and to other places. In a week or so, we had over 50 applications. We screened the list of mathematics applicants to 16, whom we later interviewed and ranked. The process was difficult, since many students were superior. From that group, four more came into mathematics and were supported by funds from the University. |

Q. | Tell us about your schooling. |

A. | I went to schools in Bessemer, Alabama, which had extremely good teachers. I first went to Sloss Junior High there. Some of my teachers had no college degree and some did not have high school diplomas. But they were excellent and dedicated to learning. I grew up in an atmosphere where working in school was more joyous than playing at home. I would rather be in school than anywhere else. I never missed a day and couldn't wait to get back to learn more. My teachers made school so exciting and such a desirable place to be! |

Q. | When did you become interested in mathematics? |

A. | From the first grade, I liked mathematics. My first grade teacher was Miss Niblett whom I will never forget! |

Q. | Tell us more about Miss Niblett and how she influenced your career. |

A. | She gave us a good beginning. I had an interesting experience in her class. We took a standardized mathematics test which consisted of adding columns of 4 digits numbers which we had not yet covered in class. I added each column and placed the totals at the bottom. The totals were correct but I didn't carry over to the next column because I hadn't been taught the concept of place value. That shows how important proper instruction is. |

Q. | Can you elaborate on this point? |

A. | We had just begun our experience in the first and second grades and she taught what is normally taught to children at that age. What she taught, she taught well. But this test contained items that she had not covered. We were not wrong: It's just that the system of recording things would say that we were wrong in that we had not learned the modifications of place value. |

Q. | I see! From this experience then, you were highly motivated for the study of place value. Who had the greatest influence in your development in mathematics in the early years! |

A. | I would say that Miss Niblett was a major influence because she gave me a good beginning. I would also say that a Mrs. King, who taught me in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades strongly influenced me. |

Q. | Tell us more about Mrs. King? |

A. | I really didn't know Mrs. King that well. That was a long time ago! I recall, however, that she was a very excellent mathematics teacher. She was stern and very strict in her grading. She created competition among us. She gave us problems to solve and we raced to see who could finish them first. We solved problems on the blackboard and had both individual and team contests. We were taught to enjoy and love mathematics. If we had learned how to do something, we were to put it into practice at the blackboard. That was one of the ways we learned and the enjoyment provided the motivation to study more mathematics. At that time, we didn't do a lot of studying outside of the classroom but we did our homework. |

Q. | Tell us about your high school teachers? |

A. | Probably the best mathematics teacher I ever had was a Mrs. Gladys T. Wood at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. She taught me plane and solid geometry. A Mrs. Callaway taught me trigonometry. I had many good teachers and changed career goals many times due to their influence. At different times I wanted to be linguist, a singer, a chemist and even a psychiatrist! |

Q. | What was so special about Mrs. Wood? |

A. | Mrs. Wood was a very exacting teacher and was able to pull the very best out of her students. She taught geometry and made the course very exciting. Many students think geometry is boring and they can't understand it, but Mrs. Wood made the course alive with a lot of competition and had students eager to answer questions in class. She provided a very stimulating environment in which to learn. |

Q. | Where were you born? |

A. | I was born in Alabama. I spent the first 14 years of my life in a little town called Bessemer, Alabama, which was then 12 miles from Birmingham. |

Q. | Tell me about our parents. |

A. | My mother only went to the 7th grade but she was wise and brilliant! She used to read to us on the floor. But she didn't realize the significance of the use of "color" within the book - where the devil was always black and looked down upon and angels were always white and looked up to. My step-father was a coal miner and illiterate but very smart. He could really manage his money. I taught him how to sign his name. |

Q. | Were you an only child? |

A. | We had a large family. In the house where I grew up, there were five children and my father had six other children. Nine of us were very close. |

Q. | What was your childhood community like? |

A. | We grew up in a community that was predominantly African American. And while I didn't know it then, now I can look back and see the influence of the adults. We respected them and they respected us. They corrected us when we were wrong or reported us to our parents. We loved ourselves and respected our teachers since we were an extension of them. |

Q. | Did you ever get married? |

A. | Yes. I got married many years ago. I'm divorced now. We had three children - two boys and one girl - one of whom was adopted. They are all married now and live on their own. I also have an adopted son who is Ethiopian. He is twenty years of age and a student of mathematics and engineering at Clark-Atlanta University. |

Q. | Did the three older children also attend college? |

A. | My sons attended college but dropped out before earning their degrees. My daughter got married after she finished high school but never attended college. My oldest son has an Associate of Arts degree but never completed the academic requirements for the Bachelor of Arts. He was at Wayne State University at the time he got serious with the woman he married. He dropped out of college while I was in Saudi Arabia. I pushed him to complete his education. That was many years ago. Now he tells me that he wants to return to the university to complete his work in the areas of economics and accounting. |

Q. | Given your interest in education, why do you think your children did not complete college? |

A. | In 1975 when I left Washington to go to Chicago, my family did not accompany me. At that time, the children were in Junior High School. In 1979 when I bought the family together again, the children had become true adults. They were as tall as I and looked me straight in the eye. We were together for about a year and for a while we were happy. When I cracked the whip about them doing this, that and the other in my house, they all left! |

Q. | What are some of your views on male-female relationships? |

A. | Black men in America have a very, very hard time if they do not have a good, solid educational background. Women are able to do more with less education than men. For example, when my oldest son got married, his wife was earning $40,000 as an executive assistant in a large company in the Midwest with only a high school education. So I told him that he would have problems with his wife as long as she was bringing in the 'long bread' and he was bringing in the 'short bread.' Sure enough, after about a year they separated and still are but they are not divorced. They separated, however, over the issue of who was going to wear the pants and that he should be doing the work she was supposed to be doing! |

Q. | Did your siblings attend college? |

A. | My oldest half sister was the first one of us to go to college. She attended Knoxville College and later went to the Stillman Institute where she studied nursing. My youngest brother and I are the only other ones in our family to become educated professionals. All of the others have done well and have good jobs but are not college educated. |

Q. | What is your youngest brother's profession? |

A. | He is a teacher. Now he is the principal of a school in Birmingham, Alabama. His academic field was special education. |

Q. | Where are your children now? |

A. | My older son is married and lives in Detroit, Michigan. He works in the post office. My younger son is in Washington, D.C. now and is a salesman. My daughter is married and lives in Atlanta, Georgia. |

Q. | Have you any grandchildren? |

A. | Yes. I think about 4. That was at last count! |

Q. | Where did you earn your undergraduate degree in mathematics? |

A. | At Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. |

Q. | Why not Howard University, since you were already in Washington, DC? |

A. | I didn't want to go to Howard University because of color prejudices which were prevalent there in those days. I didn't like that because it was demeaning and I always rebelled against demeaning things. I felt that we needed all of our strength to overcome the demeaning treatment we received on a regular basis in white institutions. |

Q. | How did you finance your education? |

A. | I had a scholarship to attend Lincoln. After one semester, I was drafted into the army. After a year, I returned to Lincoln and my undergraduate education was financed then under the G.I. Bill of Rights. |

Q. | Had you selected mathematics as a major before entering college? |

A. | No, at first I was interested in abnormal psychology and wanted to be psychiatrist. I was constantly trying to analyze myself. I became interested in mathematics while I was taking algebra at Lincoln. My teacher who was caucasian had PhD's in mathematics and chemistry and invited me to join his analytic geometry class. I did but I stayed in the algebra class in order to review it. I became known as a "heavy weight" in mathematics while still a first semester freshman. When I returned to college, after my army experience, I was still a freshman and was placed in Calculus I. |

Q. | How interesting! They are the same majors that your first professor had! What was your minor in college? |

A. | I had two minors - French and Physics. |

Q. | Did you have a mentor in math at any level? |

A. | No, I really didn't have one! |

Q. | Do you think you missed out on some opportunity by having no mentor? |

A. | What do you mean by 'mentor'? |

Q. | Someone who really encouraged you, guided you, and influenced your professional and career decisions. |

A. | No, I had no one like that. I think that was very unfortunate. |

Q. | What was your social life like at Lincoln University? |

A. | Lincoln University was an all male school out in the country so there was not much social life. We talked to each other, argued about issues, participated in campus activities, studied together and that was about it. Sometimes we would go to Philadelphia, Baltimore or Washington to athletic games or choir concerts and there were social activities connected with them. But there was little else on the campus. |

Q. | Was there a strong scholarly atmosphere there? |

A. | Oh, yes! There was a lot of competition there and we were certainly inspired to pursue excellence. |

Q. | When did you graduated from Lincoln University? |

A. | I graduated in the class of 1949. I completed the 4 years in 3, which was the first time in the history of the school that that had happened. |

Q. | Where did you do your graduate work? |

A. | First, I went to the University of Michigan for graduate work. I started in chemistry, since I had undergraduate majors in both chemistry and mathematics. I loved them both but on my first day in one chemistry class, the teacher assigned 300 pages to read. I had bad eyes and could not cope with this, so I changed my major to mathematics which required a lot more thinking but not so much reading. |

Q. | Did you earn a degree from Michigan? |

A. | No. After I got to the University of Michigan. I learned that I had received a scholarship to attend MIT. But, because of a mix-up, I didn't know about it until 4 weeks into MIT school year. I knew I could not start the school year that late, so I didn't go to MIT until the next semester. I earned my masters degree from MIT in 1951 with a major in mathematics and a minor in philosophy. |

Q. | What was your life like at MIT? |

A. | At MIT I learned much of what I know about mathematics. I did some work there with Professor Dirk J. Struik, who helped me because I was African American and he knew I wouldn't get much help from anyone else. I assisted him in writing a book entitled "Analytic Projective Geometry." While I didn't share in the authorship, my contributions were acknowledged in the Preface. The book was published in '51 or '52 by Addison Wesley. I found it used as a textbook when I went to Cornell sometime later. |

Q. | Where did you earn your Ph.D. and in what area? |

A. | I earned my Ph.D. at Cornell University in 1955 under Professor Mark Kac---originally from Poland. Later, he went to Rockefeller University. |

Q. | Why did you select Cornell? |

A. | In the summer of 1952, I got a summer job in Buffalo, N.Y. at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, and was encouraged to apply for a fellowship from the Lab to Cornell, which I did. While I did not get that fellowship, with the assistance and encouragement of a Dr. Purnas, the laboratory director, I was able to get a teaching fellowship to pursue the PhD at Cornell. This gave me great joy because it relieved me of the difficulties of trying to raise money with which to pay living expenses while pursuing the degree. |

Q. | What was it like being a teaching fellow at Cornell? |

A. | It was quite novel since in those days there were really very few African Americans in schools like Cornell. In fact, all of the other teaching fellows were white. I taught several recitation sections and was well liked on the campus. In one of my sections, every student got an "A". I guess that was due to the thoroughness with which I dealt with the material. I really enjoyed that aspect of my experience. |

Q. | What was it like being a student at Cornell? |

A. | I was the only African American student in the program. I usually studied alone, but sometimes I worked on problems with other students and at the blackboards. I got along well with them but I had no bosom friends. I did get together here and there with other African American students but I really didn't have much time. |

Q. | What kinds of grades did you get? |

A. | The highest grade was an "S" and I got all "S"'s. In fact, in one class that I just visited occasionally, they gave me an "S" even though I was not enrolled for credit. That was because I was very active and contributed much to the class. |

Q. | What were your areas of concentration at Cornell? |

A. | My major was mathematical analysis and my minors were geometry and algebra. |

Q. | What was your thesis topic? |

A. | My thesis topic was - 'On the Distribution of Eigen values of a Certain Class of Hermitian Forms.' |

Q. | Have you continued your research in analysis? |

A. | Yes. |

Q. | Are you published in this area? |

A. | Yes. My first publication was my dissertation. When I came back from Saudi Arabia I submitted several papers. One was to the Journal of Integral Equations and Applications. This was a long paper entitled 'A Continuous Analogue (for integral equations) of a Result of Szego.' It deals with the continuous distribution of the Eigenvalues of a certain class of hermitian forms. These forms in my case were integral equations. There are 2 basic results that I have in this paper about the distribution. |

Q. | What are your other research interests? |

A. | I am presently involved in a number of research efforts. Some of my interests are mathematical analysis - complex and real, eigenvalue problems, integral equations, operators in Hilbert space, applied mathematics in certain areas of physics and engineering, history and philosophy of mathematics, higher and continuing education, logic and foundations of mathematics. One of my recent masters degree students, Debra Jones, completed a thesis on Pade approximants and their application to analytic continuation of certain Maclaurin series. |

Q. | Are some of your undergraduates also engaged in research? |

A. | Yes, I mentor three or four undergraduates. Some funding is available from the University to assist these students. While still a sophomore, Lanisha Thomas did a paper on the Equivalence of the Axiom of Choice, the Well-Ordering Theorem and Zorn's Lemma. Another student, who is now a senior, worked on the Applications of Pade Approximants to the Analytic Continuation of a Certain Class of MacLaurin Series. |

Q. | In what area are your most recent publications? |

A. | Real and complex analysis and mathematical physics. I have a long article on integral equations which has been processed for publication in the Journal of Integral Equations and Applications. A few days ago, I decided to answer the question of the editor of this journal so that the article can be published as is. In that article, I included some results from my dissertation and he wants to bring those results into the paper. I received that letter back in January or February of 1989 and never got around to the typing and rewriting that would be necessary. I recently got some encouragement from a colleague who urged me to get those results together in a form that can be integrated into the body of the publication. I also have a paper with 2 co-authors published in the Physical Review A, December, 1990, entitled, Two Photon Transitions in Hydrogen: A Test of Pseudostate Summation. The co-authors are Richard J. Drachman and A. K. Bhatia at the Laboratory for Astronomy and Solar Physics, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland. |

Q. | Why do you thinking so many African American students enter college with poor mathematics preparation? |

A. | One reason is that they are not taught math properly in high school. This may be due partly to a seniority system which affects teaching assignments. Thus, those who must be hired to teach may not be properly prepared to do so. |

Q. | How can this situation be changed? |

A. | Solving this problem of poor teaching in general and poor mathematics teaching in particular is enormous and is rooted in the American way---which never intended to educate masses of the people. It only intended to really educate about 1/3 of the population which would run the country and its businesses. The proper education of African Americans upsets this social stratification, because we can leave the salt mines today and go into the upper echelons of society tomorrow. Those in control of the system traditionally prepare children of the tycoons to go to the Harvards and the Yales but have not thought out well the kind of preparation others may need. Thus, the problem is a societal one. Therefore, it can be solved only by rethinking the purpose of educating all of the people and then by re-educating the entire population with this purpose in mind. |

Q. | What can teachers do? |

A. | First, teachers must limit their reliance upon standardized test scores in assessing the achievement of African American students. Second, students must be taught the language of mathematics so that they can understand and be able to communicate mathematics well. Third, throughout mathematics teaching, students need to understand the role of their own ancestors in the development of the field. Fourth, every opportunity must be seized to publicize the students who are successful in mathematics. Fifth, the discipline must come alive in the classroom through the use of real world applications. Finally, students must be taught how to reason in mathematics. This same approach accounts for the outstanding success of Dr. Clarence Stephens at both Morgan State University and SUNY-Potsdam. |

Q. | I've heard you speak in glowing terms about Clarence Stephens. What do you admire about him? |

A. | Dr. Stephens is interested in developing people, both students and faculty. He is not pretentious. He wants his students to learn, to know, to be competent, to get that elusive thing called mathematical maturity. He goes about it in a nice easy way but he gets there! He conveys excitement in learning to anyone who listens to him. |

Q. | How do you transmit your strong sense of respect for other to your students? |

A. | I spend much time trying to reshape my students in this sense because they have been neglected in this regard. They are taught to respect themselves and others. I sometimes interrupt class to correct them. For example, if a student starts to walk out of class before the end of the period, I stop him and remind him that I'm in charge of the class and students can't just leave class without permission. Also, I insist upon order - absolute order - in the classroom when someone is speaking. |

Q. | What is your position on placement testing? |

A. | I don't believe in placement testing although my university uses these tests. I think it is better to use high school records, self-assessments, and interviews to place students properly. When I talk to the students and find out their backgrounds and grades and the feelings they have about themselves, I may allow them to enroll in the mathematics courses they want regardless of the recommendation of the placement staff. The placement staff may want to place a student in pre-calculus when the student could be enrolled in Calculus I. Some students have passed certain courses in high school but did not pass our placement test. By no means should such a student languish in lower level mathematics courses when the student could enjoy the benefits of higher order mathematics. |

Q. | You have said your teachers were strict and you are strict. Is there anything else you can identify which influenced your teaching? |

A. | Most of my teachers at all levels were able to create excitement in the students and I seek to instill that same excitement in my students. I go at it with gusto and enthusiasm and exuberance and this attracts them! |

Q. | Do you recall any specific action on your part that turned one of your students onto mathematics? |

A. | You may have heard the story of J. Arthur Jones. I met him at Tuskegee. He was not in my section but he was in the section of one of my colleagues. He was very bright and very excited about mathematics and I invited him to join my abstract algebra class. The head of the department almost went bananas over my taking this young man into that class. We had a big pow wow about it but ultimately I won the issue. It turned out that he was actually the best student in the class, since he was open to excitement and development. I didn't realize until he came here a couple years ago that I had given him a copy of a book "A Survey of Modern Algebra" by Birkoff and McLane which he has to this day and which he states opened up a whole new vista in abstract mathematics to him. He said he went through the book systematically and solved every problem. The door to abstract mathematics would be forever open to him because of that! |

Q. | What a great story! The rest is history. I know J. Arthur Jones went on to earn a doctorate in mathematics at Pennsylvania State University. In more recent years, do you recall any similar action on your part, which demonstrates how your overwhelming confidence in students paid off? |

A. | Last year, I taught calculus to an honors class labeled pre-calculus for non-math majors. Having checked the high school records of all the students and having talked and listened to them, I told them and eventually convinced them that they were prepared to pursue and succeed in calculus. Of the class of 21, two never attended, one withdrew, and only one failed. The remainder passed with a grade of C or better. The student who failed, missed on the average of two classes per week. Fifteen students took the second part of the course (Calculus II) and they all passed with a grade of C or better. Interestingly enough, when I announced that I intended to teach calculus to that class, the students were apprehensive because they felt they were unprepared! |

Q. | How do you recognize mathematical talent? |

A. | I believe that anyone who is not brain damaged and wants to learn mathematics can do so. I look for many things and it takes a while. I observe their work habits - how they think and solve problems, how they attack a problem individually and how they communicate mathematically. This tells me much about their mathematical maturity. Listening to them and observing their reasoning are very important, and their level of maturity can be detected. |

Q. | How do you get students off to a fast start in developing mathematical maturity? |

A. | To do this, we first find out what the student knows, which involves much listening. We assign problems that he can handle and observe his analysis. When students get stuck, we do not usually solve their problem for them; much of the time, we discuss the problem and allow students another opportunity to solve it! If students are willing to work hard, they derive from us a sense of pride in their heritage and thus confidence in themselves. Their self-confidence motivates them to persevere until they are successful in solving difficult problems. You know, most people cannot believe that in four years some of our students can earn both a baccalaureate and masters degree in mathematics! This is because they do not understand the interaction between us and our students. |

Q. | Can you direct us to some literature that would inform students of contributions African Americans have made to mathematics. |

A. | To name a few, there are "Blacks in Science" edited by Dr Van Sertima, "Black Mathematicians" by Newell, Gibson, and Stubblefield published in 1980 by Dorrance and Company of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, "The Nile Valley Civilization" edited by Van Sertima, "Great African Thinkers" also by Van Sertima, and "A Stolen Legacy" by G.M James. These articles and books on African history and culture are absolutely essential for the proper development of African American students just as is the similar history for white ethnic groups. Every African American should admire someone and know about the life of that person. Furthermore, their choice should not be restricted by a narrow curriculum. |

Q. | Did you have an opportunity to work with Albert T. Bharucha-Reid at Atlanta University? |

A. | No, Bharucha Reid was at the University for a number of years before my return. He died in 1985 and I returned to Atlanta University in 1986. In the interim, the chair of the department was Dr. Ben Martin and then Dr. Warsi. |

Q. | I think his life is very interesting because, although he had no earned Ph.D., he developed many students who earned Ph.D's. How do you explain this? |

A. | His prolific work in mathematics exceeded many times over that required to get a Ph.D. The degree itself does not determine whether one can produce students. This is determined by one's professional expertise as a teacher and a scholar. Ph.D.'s do not produce Ph.D.'s: Knowledge does. |

Q. | Did you grow up as a Black Muslim? |

A. | As I grew up, I guess I was a Black Christian since that's all I knew. My mother took us to Sunday school and church and we grew up with Christian or religious values. We knew the difference between right and wrong and we always wanted to be in the right! We respected our parents, elders, teachers, preachers and the people of the church. |

Q. | Then what caused you to become a Black Muslim? |

A. | Very simply, I came to know the truth. |

Q. | I have a friend who recognized you as Lonnie Cross from Dunbar High School in Washington, DC. When did you change you name? |

A. | It was changed in 1964 to Lonnie Shabazz and in 1975 the first part of my name was changed to Abdulalim. This was done by Imam W D Muhammad, the son of Elijah Muhammad. He gave me two choices, Abdulalim or Rushiddin. Abdulalim means 'the slave of the all knowing God' while Rushiddin means 'one guided by the faith'. Both seemed to fit me but I preferred the one with the knowledge rather than one guided by faith. |

Q. | Are your children Muslims? |

A. | Yes, we all are. |

Q. | I understand that you spent nineteen years as a preacher in the Nation of Islam. What can you tell us about those years? |

A. | I left Atlanta University to become the minister in Washington, D.C. over the mosque call Mosque No. 4. I was also Director of Education. That experience lasted 12 years from'63 to'75. When the Honorable Elijah Muhammad died in '75, I was transferred to Chicago where I remained for 4 years. There I was the Director of Education and later Director of Adult Education for the Nation of Islam. From there, I went to Detroit where I remained for three and one-half years and was Imam of the Detroit mosque. That's a minister of the Islamic faith. I was also Imam for the Midwest region and the state Imam. In other words, I was leader of the Islamic community for the State of Michigan and the 13 Midwest states. I was the Imam of the largest mosque in the state of Michigan. In fact, our mosque became the largest in the Midwest region because of the leadership and progressive things we were doing, like education and business development. We were really moving business-wise in Detroit. |

Q. | What was different about your educational program? |

A. | Education in the Nation of Islam is very innovative and nurturing. It is rapid and very thorough, even all consuming. It is highly disciplined but alive. We enjoy going to school. This discipline guides children so that they don't have to guess at where they are going or what they are doing. We show them as well as tell them and they know what to do. Education is highly directed and students are encouraged to develop themselves individually and collectively. |

Q. | Were the schools divided into grade levels? |

A. | Yes, but it was not strictly regulated such that a student remained at each level for a year. If a student could do 2 grades or more in a year, he was encouraged to do so. Students moved at their own pace and were encouraged to move ahead on their own. In Washington, we compacted the 12 grade levels into 9 levels of learning. Students came in at the age of 4, age 3 if they could dress themselves and behave properly. Because they came in so young, they could often complete high school by the time they were 12 or 13, sometimes younger. |

Q. | Where did they usually study following completion of high school? |

A. | We had set up our own college division in Washington. When I left in '75, we had the first Islamic college division in America. With our emphasis on education and business development, our students developed a sense of independence in their thinking, in business operations and in communications. At that time, we had our own newspaper which circulated 1,000,000 copies per week. That represented a lot of power. |

Q. | Does the newspaper still exists? |

A. | No. It was called Muhammad Speaks. It became known as the 'Bilalian News' under Imam Muhammad. It is called the 'Muslim Journal' now and has a small circulation under 20,000, compared to over 1,000,000 under Elijah Muhammad. The 'Final Call' of Louis Farrakhan has a larger circulation than the Muslim Journal. Minister Farrakhan's paper is like a replacement for 'Muhammad Speaks.' |

Q. | How many children did you serve in the schools? |

A. | In Washington, we started with a student body of about 135 which grew to a little over 400 students. That was over our capacity. The school was separated into a school for girls and a school for boys. Girls and boys attended school at different times of the day. Classes were very small and students received a lot of individual attention. |

Q. | Why were the sexes separate? |

A. | This was for religious reasons and it cut down on distraction. After they reached puberty, there was less mixing. |

Q. | How large were your classes? |

A. | In the lower grades the class size was about 20. At the upper levels, class sizes were around 10 or 15, depending on the number of teachers we had. |

Q. | Where did you get your teachers? |

A. | We got them from the Muslim community. All of them were Muslims. |

Q. | What kind of training did they have? |

A. | Some had training similar to mine. We had a Muslim brother with a PhD in musicology from Harvard and an architect from Howard University. Most of them were people I recruited from the Washington area. |

Q. | How many schools did you have? |

A. | We thought of ourselves as one school, the University of Islam which had a college division and a grade school/high school division. |

Q. | Did you develop any outstanding mathematics students in the Black Muslim Mosque? |

A. | Oh, yes! All students were good in mathematics and English. When they left our school, they were a delight for teachers wherever they went. At the colleges and junior colleges around Washington, they were the superstars of education. They were really quite good. |

Q. | Do you recall the names of any students you developed then? |

A. | Not really. I had a number of good students, both boys and girls. But many had a last name of "X" so I don't really know who they were. One boy whom I particularly remember was named Hussein but I don't know his last name. We taught him in high school and college. When he left us, he was a real superstar in the local university that he attended. He "aced" all of his courses. |

Q. | Since your students were good in mathematics and you emphasized business development, did you integrate the business curriculum with the mathematics? |

A. | Yes! |

Q. | Did you encourage and develop entrepreneurs? |

A. | Yes. Our children worked part time in the community and they learned how the sciences that they learned in school fit in their lives. Those that were going into engineering or into business could see how the things they learned went into the businesses that we owned and they could be a part of that development. |

Q. | Why did you leave the Nation of Islam? |

A. | I didn't. I only left the community of Imam W D Muhammad, after we came to a 'parting of the ways.' There are times when people are threatened by the talent of other people, and this was one of those times. One of my friends told me it was the wisest thing I could have done, for he indicated that I could have been killed. But I have so much faith and no fear of human beings that they were afraid to carry out the mandate that they thought they had. When I went away, it caught them by surprise and I was elevated far above the pettiness in which they were immersed. When I came back after the first year, Malcolm's oldest brother -Wilfred Shabazz went with me to Belle Island in the Detroit River where he told me that he had advised his brother to leave this country until the heat cooled down. Malcolm went away for a short while but when he returned he was killed. |

Q. | Why did you select Saudi Arabia for refuge? |

A. | I had a friend, Dr. Muhammad Rashid - at the University of Makkah who had invited me years before to remain in Makkah as a professor in mathematics at the University. When I met him, he was head of the Makkah branch of King Abdulaziz University which later became the University of Makkah around 1979 or 1980. I was there in 1978 on a special educational mission in a training class for Imams and I was one of the star students in that group. He was very much impressed with me and my character and my knowledge of mathematics. He invited me to stay there to continue my Islamic studies and studies of the Arabic language. I could work at the University to take care of myself and extend my knowledge of Islamic culture. |

Q. | What did you do in Saudi Arabia? |

A. | I was a professor of mathematics at the University of Makkah. Its name was Umm Al Qura University. I was there for four years from '82 to '86 and it was one of the high points of my life. I taught undergraduate women and men but not together since the women were taught through closed circuit television while the men were in the room with me. I never saw the women and they never saw me but I got to know them by their voices. It didn't bother me but it would have been easier if we could have seen each other. |

Q. | Did that interfere with what you thought was proper respect for women? |

A. | No. It really gave them protection, since it cuts down on rape, fornication and adultery in a society where women may be disrespected. In the United States, television and movies use women in very demeaning ways - as toys and sex objects. |

Q. | How large was the school and its mathematics department? |

A. | The University had about 10,000 students in all - both men and women. Our faculty had about 17 assistant, associate and full professors and several lecturers. |

Q. | What courses did you teach there? |

A. | Abstract algebra, non-Euclidean geometry, Foundations of Mathematics, Real Analysis, Complex Analysis, Mathematical Physics, and Calculus II and III. |

Q. | How did your students there compare with your students at Clark Atlanta University? |

A. | About the same. Some were excellent and some poor but with potential. |

Q. | In what language did you teach? |

A. | I taught in English, but I used Arabic to explain certain mathematical concepts that gave them difficulty in the English texts. All of my students were undergraduates since the mathematics department didn't have a graduate school. We were getting a graduate school program when I left. |

Q. | You mentioned having an undergraduate minor in French, do you read or speak any other languages? |

A. | I read, write and speak Arabic. I read and speak French fluently, and I read German. |

Q. | Why did you leave Saudi Arabia? |

A. | I wanted to come back and help with the serious problems in this country in mathematics education. |

Q. | Have you received any honors for your work as a mathematician and a mathematics educator? |

A. | During academic year 1962-63, I was invited by the Mathematical Association of America to be a visiting lecturer for the southeastern region for 1964. That was the same year that Dr. J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr. was a visiting lecturer for the southwestern region. In both 1988 and 1989 I was awarded NASA faculty research fellowships. I worked at the NASA laboratory in the Goddard Space Center where I got involved in some industrial research. In may 1990, I was an awardee at the National Convocation on Making Mathematics Work for the Minorities sponsored by the Mathematical Sciences Education Board of the National Academy of Sciences. I haven't been around much to get many prizes. People are just now beginning to realize that I'm back. |

Q. | Are there any publication that elaborate upon your prolific development of African American students at Atlanta University? |

A. | Probably not! In an unpublished paper by Dr Johnny Houston entitled "A Humanistic and Nurturing Approach in the Teaching of Mathematics: An Atlanta University Center Legend", Houston names several outstanding people in the Atlanta University Center who were famous for their nurturing and production of mathematicians. He names such people as Claude B. Dansby at Morehouse, Georgia Caldwell Smith at Spelman, Dr. J J Dennis at Clark, and Hubert C. Boggs and Joseph Pierce at Atlanta University. Of me, Houston wrote: "It should be noted that even though Dr. Abdulalim Shabazz had the shortest tenure in the Atlanta University Center of these giants, he was the most prolific and productive regarding the number of students produced at the masters degree level." Houston went on to produce data to document that statement. I am also cited several times in an article of the Bicentennial History of the American Mathematical Society. |

Q. | I read an account of your walk out in the sixties from an MAA sectional meeting in South Carolina due to discriminatory housing and eating arrangements. Are there any lingering discriminatory practices in the professional organizations today? |

A. | Certainly. Just look at the composition of the key committees and the number of African American mathematicians asked to give invited addresses! |

Q. | Do you feel that the mathematics community in the United States is interested in or receptive to ideas on how to more effectively teach mathematics - particularly to African Americans? |

A. | Definitely not! The mathematics community is a very elitist community. They view mathematics as pure thought and largely take the position that any mathematics dealing with applications or practicality is not really mathematics. They do not acknowledge contributions to the field made in Africa and South and Central America where there exist monuments to the mathematical and technological genius of our people. This must change since there is nothing anyone can do with abstract or pure thought in and of itself. |

Q. | Do you feel that students come to historically Black colleges based on the perceived ethnicity of the faculty and the belief that African American teachers would be better for them? |

A. | Yes, because if they had wanted predominately white teachers they would probably have gone to a school where they knew that was the case. |

Q. | What is the ethnic make-up of the mathematics faculty of Clark University? |

A. | At the present time we have 14 full-time and 4 part-time mathematics faculty members. Two full-time faculty members are non-African American. One is a Palestinian Arab and the other Chinese. |

Q. | It has been said that while 85% of the African American college students attend white institution, 50% of these students who are awarded baccalaureate degrees in mathematics receive them from HBCUs. What do you think accounts for this? |

A. | Often, African American students are bought into majority institutions for reasons other than educating them. In many cases, majority institutions receive money from various governmental and private sources to recruit African American students. These students are bought in the front door but leave through the side or back door. Interest centers on getting the money rather than on developing scholars. Those of us who are actually educating Black students in the HBCUs do not get the resources. Foundations prefer to support whites and white institutions to develop African American students, despite their continuing incapacity to do so! |

Q. | By the time your students at Clark Atlanta get through Calculus III, what percentage have dropped out? |

A. | I've only been at Clark Atlanta as department chair for one semester and already our survival rate is much higher than it was prior to my arrival. Correspondingly, our drop-out rate is much lower. Before I started, we had a failing rate of 50% to 70% but now 70% or more are passing. |

Q. | Do you think role models are important? |

A. | Of course, role models are important and essential. Its absence is without a doubt one of the big problems we face today as African Americans. Without sufficient numbers of African American role models our children and youth will not make much progress in mathematics. Students need someone to identify with...someone who looks like themselves. This is part of what it means to know oneself so as to be oneself. Of course, this starts in the home and naturally extends to the school. |

Q. | How will you characterize a role model? |

A. | The teacher as a role model is an extension of the father or mother or brother or sister. In 1956 when I went to Tuskegee, I was about the same age and appearance as the students I taught. They said that they could identify with me and saw their own potential embodied in me. In that classroom, everybody learned! |

Q. | How important are mentors for development in mathematics? |

A. | Mentoring is very important also because the nature of our society is such that minority students in all groups are neglected. We are usually left to our own efforts to get involved in research, publishing, book writing and other things that are status symbols for professionals. Even when we try, we often find barriers in the intermediaries or contact people who will discourage us. Without a mentor, it is easy to give up. |

Q. | Do you believe that African Americans in integrated faculties have largely the same attitudes and expectations for Black students as their white counterparts? |

A. | They often do. Some of them hate themselves and throw their hatred onto their own people. I hasten to add that the hatred is not of their true selves, for they don't know themselves. They know only the alien self they have been taught. |

Q. | How can this situation be managed? |

A. | Only with truth. The true history and culture of African Americans must be taught along with that of other ethnic groups in our schools, colleges and universities. |

Q. | Is there an increase in non African American faculty members in mathematics departments of HBCUs? |

A. | Yes, and therein lies a danger. If care is not taken to have an adequate number of knowledgeable African American faculty members in HBCUs, then the HBCUs will approach the productivity rates of African American scholars which exist in majority institutions, and that will be intolerably low! |

Q. | Does that statement suggest that whites cannot work with or teach African Americans as equal? |

A. | In general, it certainly does! White people have never really considered African Americans as equals! All we have to do is to look at how they have treated us for the past 400 years. |

Q. | Then, what does this say about how African Americans must approach survival in this country? |

A. | Muslims have always believed in freedom and self-reliance. We cannot rely on others to give us the things needed for our own survival. If we won't educate ourselves, or if we allow whites to continue to try to do this for us, we will never be self-reliant. In addition, if HBCUs become tools of whites, then business development, which African Americans need to become self-reliant, will never become a reality. Instead, we will always strive to become whatever whites require of us in order for them to regard us as worthy of their employment and support. |