December 17, 1951

Board of Governors

Mathematical Association of America


The Fisk mathematics department has directed me to communicate our views concerning the resolution against discrimination adopted by your Board last September and published in the Monthly, November 1951, p. 661.

We are pleased at the anti-discrimination affirmation constituting the first sentence. It is our hope that you will now proceed to implement this with unequivocal, unambiguous action that will protect the rights of all members to full, equal participation in all aspects of the work of the Association. The protection of such rights is an inescapable obligation upon the officers and Board in particular, for nothing less than full and equal participation is the right of each member, regardless of race, creed or color.

An absolutely essential prerequisite to this protection is to require, as we requested in our original letter of April 20, 1951, later published in Science (August 10, 1951), p. 161, that no meetings be held at any place unless prior assurance is received that there will be no discrimination, in the meeting rooms, eating places, teas, banquets, social functions, etc. This was put forth as the result of the exclusion of Negro mathematicians from the banquet of the southeastern region of the Association last spring. The national President of the Association was the speaker and the Vice Chancellor of Vanderbilt University was toastmaster.

How can it be said that discrimination is being avoided if we do not take the elementary step of holding meetings only where such assurances are forthcoming?

This is not a matter of ``legislating welcome.'' This has to do solely with the right of every mathematician, regardless of his color, to participate as fully as any other mathematician in the Mathematical Association. The very acceptance of dues, which are the same for all members, is an act which binds the Association to provide non-discriminatory treatment for all.

We believe that the by-laws we requested earlier should be adopted.

It is of the utmost importance that the action be a matter of clear record so that everybody knows that all aspects of all meetings must be non-discriminatory.

Experience in the south has demonstrated quite dearly that the sharp, definite elimination of racial restrictions is not only the just way but is also the easy way. The more you drag things out, the vaguer you are, the more room you leave for doubts and misunderstanding, the more trouble you have.

Further, the Association has the task of promoting the interests of collegiate mathematics, which includes bringing teachers of collegiate mathematics into active participation in the work of the Association.

Here it should be realized that nearly all Negroes teaching collegiate mathematics are employed in the segregated schools of the south. There are few exceptions. Without dwelling here on the reasons for such limited employment, I note merely that the meetings that these mathematicians (like other southern mathematicians) would be expected to attend most numerously are those held in the south. When the Society met at the University of Georgia in 1947, not one Negro was present. At the Annual meeting, held at the University of Florida in 1950, only one Negro attended. The Secretary of the southeastern region of the Association told me that no Negro had ever attended an Association meeting in that region in the twenty years he has been Secretary until some Fisk faculty and graduate students went last spring (and were excluded from the banquet). I suspect that a similar report could be made in respect to the Society.

Negro mathematicians are naturally reluctant to attend meetings held at schools with which they have virtually no other contact. They feel concerned lest they be excluded, segregated, restricted in their activities, or otherwise humiliated. Those who teach in the state colleges for Negroes have the additional worry that their Boards of Trustees would take punitive action against them if they are involved in an ``incident''.

The southern meetings seem to have been organized around the assumption that no Negroes will attend. The arrangements committee for the Association's southeastern regional meeting held last spring at Vanderbilt and Peabody listed only housing facilities restricted to white patrons.

The Society meeting held at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, November 23-24, 1951, is another illustration. No housing or dining facilities were provided by the host institution and the printed program listed only places which are restricted to white patrons. One Negro mathematician did attend. He had to eat by himself. Since he is a Professor at Tuskegee (less than twenty miles away), he was able to return home to sleep. Had he come from a more distant institution and desired to remain over for the second day of the meeting there is no telling where he might have had to sleep.

The program listed a Social Hour, details to be announced at the meeting. He asked at the registration desk for further information. A member of the Arrangements committee told him that ``technically'' he could attend, but that he ``probably would not want to do so as it was being held in one of the girls' dormitories.''

Precise by-laws are needed to extend to all members the full benefits restricted to some by present practices. Moreover, they must be so unmistakably phrased that no confusion can arise.

Only thus can they encourage Negro mathematicians to participate in Association meetings, secure in the knowledge that any announced meeting is one whose hosts have assured the Board that there will be no discrimination.

Interracial arrangements committees for southern meetings would also help, since they would anticipate (and could therefore eliminate) a number of problems that might otherwise prove bothersome.

Sincerely yours,

Lee Lorch, Chairman
Mathematics Department