Celebrating Black History Month
This Black History Month, Valkyrie honors the Black American men and women who pushed the boundaries of scientific research and application to advance the field despite intense discrimination, exclusion, and undue barriers to their success. Though there are multitudes from whose contributions we’ve learned and benefitted, today we’re highlighting three Black scientists that personify the values we aspire to. We’re inspired by their legacies and humbly learn from the precedence they set.
Martha Euphemia Lofton Haynes: Equality in STEM Education
Martha Euphemia Lofton Haynes was a mathematician, educator, and change maker who played a pivotal role in making education available to all. She became the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D in Mathematics and later became the Chair of the Washington D.C. School Board where she fought for equality by working to desegregate the public school system.
Dr. Haynes earned her BA in Mathematics from Smith College, MA in Education from the University of Chicago, and, in 1943, her Ph.D in Mathematics from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She taught in the D.C. public schools for forty-seven years and was the first woman to serve as chair of the D.C. School Board, which, under her leadership, integrated the D.C. public schools in 1959. Her work opened the doors of the American education system to young people of color, enabling many to follow in her footsteps in becoming mathematicians and scientists. Throughout her career, Dr. Haynes championed racial equality in STEM education and her legacy has helped push open the doors of education to all.
Charles R Drew : Life-Saving Innovations
Born in Washington, D.C. in 1904, Charles Drew became the renowned African-American scientist who was responsible for inventing blood plasma transfusions and developing the first mobile blood bank. An accomplished surgeon, Dr. Drew was placed as head of all blood transfusions for the United States and Great Britain during World War II. Through his research, Drew developed life-saving breakthroughs that allowed for the safe transportation of blood, as well as innovations in plasma separation, saving countless soldiers’ lives. While in his position, he fought tirelessly against the segregation of African-American blood and ultimately resigned from his position after the US refused to change its stance. He spent the remainder of his career as a Professor at Howard University as well as Chief Surgeon at Freedman’s Hospital, where he continued his medical research and practice. Dr. Drew pioneered life-saving innovations while simultaneously standing up for medical civil rights in his field, bravely risking his career for the health and wellbeing for all.
Annie Easley : Perseverance in Rocket Science
Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, Annie Easley was a pioneer in early computational math as one of the first computer scientists at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became NASA. After being hired in the early 1950’s as a human computer (doing computations by hand), her role soon evolved into technical programming. She worked on battery technology that would later influence those in hybrid cars as well as shuttle launches, and most famously, the Centaur rocket. Easley accomplished all of this in the face of harsh racial and gender discrimination by remaining steadfast in her work. “I just have my own attitude. I’m out here to get the job done, and I knew I had the ability to do it, and that’s where my focus was… My head is not in the sand. But my thing is, if I can’t work with you, I will work around you. I was not about to be [so] discouraged that I’d walk away. That may be a solution for some people, but it’s not mine.” Annie Easley pioneered not only the field of computer science, but the role of women of color in a majority white male-dominated field. Her outstanding skill set as a rocket scientist combined with her perseverance paved the way for equality in STEM and beyond.
In conclusion, we’re proud to celebrate Black scientists and the great progress they’ve made within science and civil rights alike. Their work brought humanity to the moon, saved countless lives, and forged a path forward for others to follow in their steps.
The Mathematics Department of The State University of New York at Buffalo. (2001,July 1). Martha Euphemia Lofton Haynes, First African American Woman Mathematician. Mathematicians of the African Diaspora. Retrieved February 13, 2020, from http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/PEEPS/haynes.euphemia.lofton.html
10 Famous Black Mathematicians and Their Contributions. (2015, July 23). Famous Mathematicians. Retrieved February 13, 2020, from https://famous-mathematicians.com/10-famous-black-mathematicians-and-their-contributions/
Biography.com. (2019, July 29). Charles Drew Biography. Retrieved February 13, 2020, from https://www.biography.com/scientist/charles-drew
Tan, S. Y., & Merritt, C. (2017). Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950): Father of blood banking. Singapore medical journal, 58(10), 593–594. https://doi.org/10.11622/smedj.2017099
Mills, A.K. (2015, September 21). Annie Easley, Computer Scientist. NASA. Retrieved February 13, 2020, from https://www.nasa.gov/feature/annie-easley-computer-scientist
Samorodnitsky, D. (2018, November 26). Meet Annie Easley, the barrier-breaking mathematician who helped us explore the solar system. Massive Science. Retrieved February 13, 2020, from https://massivesci.com/articles/annie-easley-facts-stem-mathematician-nasa-scientist-discrimination/