10 Brilliant Black Mathematicians Who Never Received the Praise They Deserved


Katherine Johnson (born Aug. 26, 1918)

Johnson was a physicist, space scientist and mathematician who played a major part in the early days of the space program. Johnson attended West Virginia State University, and in 1934 she earned a bachelor’s in French and mathematics. Her mentor was Dr. W.W. Schiefflin Claytor, the third African-American to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. Claytor created a special course focusing on analytic geometry just for Johnson. In 1940, she attended West Virginia University to further her studies. 

She dealt with the early application of digital electronic computers at NASA. Johnson was known for her mathematical accuracy in computerized celestial navigation. She was responsible for calculating the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon. Essentially, she was a human computer. 


Jesse Ernest Wilkins Jr. (Nov. 27, 1923 – May 1, 2011)

Wilkins was an acclaimed nuclear scientist, mechanical engineer and mathematician. Wilkins was one of the youngest people to attend the University of Chicago. He entered at age 13, and by the age of 20 he earned a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate. His greatest work included contributing to the Manhattan Project during the World War II. He taught at Howard University, Clark Atlanta University, and worked at multiple laboratories around the nation, including Argonne National Laboratory from 1976 to 1977. Wilkins also served as president of the American Nuclear Society from 1974 to 1975.


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