I The Early Years: Prior to 1965

African-Americans in the Southeast were involved in the teaching of college and university mathematics and in mathematical research during the early years of the Southeastern Section of the Mathematical Association of America. However, as far as is known, no African-Americans attended meetings of the section prior to 1951. There are many reasons for the lack of participation of African-Americans in the Southeastern Section during its early years. A major reason was certainly their reluctance to attend meetings hosted by white institutions during a period of segregation and repression when there was little or no contact between the white and black institutions. In addition, those African-Americans who taught at the Black state colleges worried that their Boards of Trustees would take punitive action against them if they were involved in an ``incident.'' In fact, the mathematics department chair of one of these colleges said in 1951 that if an African-American attempted to attend a meeting, and even got in and was received with a pretense of politeness, ``that night someone would make a phone call to someone else and soon people at [the college] would lose their jobs without ever being told why.''

The record indicates that African-Americans attempted to attend an annual meeting of the Southeastern Section in 1951, when the meeting was held March 16-17 in Nashville, with Vanderbilt University and Peabody College for Teachers as host institutions. Lee Lorch, the chair of the mathematics department at Fisk University, and three Black colleagues, Evelyn Boyd, Walter Brown, and H. M. Holloway came to the meeting and were able to attend the scientific sessions. Since Fisk was a private institution, these faculty were not taking quite the risk that faculty at public institutions would. However, the meeting was not without incident. Several days before the meeting Professor Lorch had requested four reservations to the banquet, which included an address by Saunders Mac Lane, the President of the MAA. On March 15, the day before the banquet, the chair of the arrangements committee, on learning that three of these reservations were to be used by African-Americans, declared the reservations canceled. Thus the Fisk faculty members could not attend the banquet and hear Mac Lane's talk, ``What Makes Students Think?''

The request of Professors Lorch and Boyd to President Mac Lane that he withdraw from the banquet or openly state his objections to discrimination at the banquet was declined on the basis that this action would be discourteous to the hosts. The Fisk faculty then wrote to the Board of Governors of the Mathematical Association of America and the Executive Council of the American Mathematical Society requesting that the organizations place into their bylaws statements that would protect the rights of all members to participate fully in the affairs of the organizations without regard to race, creed or color. (See Appendix I.) Although the Board did not attempt to change the bylaws, it did pass a resolution at its meeting of September 3, 1951 affirming its intention to conduct the affairs of the Association without discrimination. This resolution was published in the American Mathematical Monthly (November, 1951, p. 661) (See Appendix II.) The resolution requested the President to consult with various section officers to ``determine the best means for avoiding discrimination,'' and the President reported on his conversations to the Board on December 28, 1951. (See Appendix III.) One month later, the President communicated his report to all Section officers, noting that he had determined that ``it is possible ...to conduct the scientific business and social affairs of the Association without discrimination as to race, creed or color. This possibility rests upon careful planning in advance and consultation with the host institution in question.'' The President further charged the officers ``with responsibility for these plans,'' and stated that he would rely upon their ``cooperation and wisdom in their execution.'' (See Appendix IV.) The Secretary of the Association, Harry Gehman, also sent the report, along with a covering letter inviting membership applications, to ``mathematicians in Colleges which are attended predominantly by Negroes.'' (See Appendix V.)

Meanwhile, on December 17, 1951, Professor Lorch again wrote to the Board of Governors expressing the hope that the Association would implement its resolution 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'' and making specific suggestions toward this end. (See Appendix VI.) For the remainder of the decade, however, it is not clear what the response of the Southeastern Section was to the request of the President, because African-Americans apparently did not attend Section meetings. What became clear in 1960, however, was that the leadership of the Southeastern Section had not yet reached the position of abiding by the non-discrimination policy articulated by the national organization.

On April 1, 1960 a delegation from Atlanta University (AU), consisting of Professor Abdulalim A. Shabazz (then Lonnie Cross), an African-American and Chairman of the Department of Mathematics, Professor S. C. Saxena, an East Indian, William E. Brodie, an African-American graduate student, and James D. Vineyard, a white graduate student, presented their confirmed room reservations to the receptionists at the Wade Hampton Hotel in Columbia, South Carolina, site of the 1960 annual meeting of the Southeastern Section. Initially, the hotel officials said that the rooms were not ready, but, after a brief consultation among themselves, they told the AU delegation that the hotel would not honor the room reservations of the non-white delegates. The officials further stated that they had made it clear to the officials of the Section making arrangements for the meeting that all non-white attendees would be excluded from sleeping in the hotel and attending the banquet.

Professor Shabazz and the AU delegation then conferred with Professor C. L. Seebeck, Secretary-Treasurer of the Section, and Professor W. L. Williams, Chair of the Department of Mathematics at the University of South Carolina and chair of the arrangements committee, and reminded them of the non-discrimination policy of the national MAA. However, the Section officials only reiterated what the hotel officials had said and expressed their regrets and their hope that the AU delegation would remain at the meeting. Thereupon, in spite of Professor Shabazz's scheduled presentation of a paper during the first general session of the meeting, he and the entire AU delegation left the meeting in protest of the continued manifest discrimination against non-white attendees. (See Appendix VII.)

The action of the Fisk faculty in 1951 in attempting to participate fully in the meeting of their Section and their subsequent protest to the Board of Governors marked the beginning of the banning of discrimination and other measures that prevented full participation by all mathematicians in the MAA. The action almost ten years later by Professor Shabazz was also significant in breaking down barriers. This was the first time that it was clear that African-Americans would not accept partial participation in the meetings.

There were many actions by others that followed which opened more doors, such as the establishment of the National Association of Mathematicians (NAM) in 1969. NAM provided a professional organization for those mathematicians interested in the promotion of the mathematics education of African-Americans, an area of little interest at the time to the national body and its sections. NAM also provided an organized effort for representation on MAA committees and the Board of Governors.