First Black Scholar in National Academy of Sciences was U of I Graduate
The first black scholar admitted to the National Academy of Sciences is being remembered as a mathematician who had a unique way of getting to the heart of the problem.
David Blackwell died of natural causes July 8th at the age of 91. The Centralia native attended the University of Illinois at age 16, earning his doctorate in mathematics in 1941. Blackwell's time at the U of I was followed by an appointment at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, alongside Albert Einstein, as well as time teaching at Howard University, and the University of California at Berkley, where he taught math for over 30 years. UCLA statistics professor Thomas Ferguson says he first met Blackwell as a student at Berkley in the early 50's. "He had this way of finding the right questions to ask that were the right problems to look at," said Ferguson. "Then he would go after those problems, and actually come out with something really interesting to say about them. In each of these areas that I'm thinking, he writes some sort of fundamental paper that everybody else jumps on, and then keeps going."
David Blackwell was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1965. His career had its share of obstacles. In 1942, he was blocked from becoming an honorary Princeton faculty member because of his race. Blackwell's initial efforts to teach at U-C Berkeley were also blocked for the same reason. But he also wrote two books, published more than 80 papers and eventually held 12 honorary degrees from schools like Harvard and Yale.
Funeral services are tentatively set for July 31st.