Report of President Saunders Mac Lane to the Board of Governors, Providence, Rhode Island, December 28, 1951

At its meeting in September 1951, the Board of Governors passed the following resolution:

The Board of Governors of the Association affirms its steady intention to conduct the scientific meetings, social gatherings, and other affairs of the Association so as to promote the interests of Mathematics without discrimination as to race, creed, or color. The President of the Association is authorized and requested to determine the best means for avoiding discrimination, by consultation on this subject with the various chairmen and secretaries of the sections and other appropriate members of the Association and to report the results of this consultation to the Board.

In accordance with this resolution your president has written letters to 54 people, including the sectional officers and governors from the regions most directly affected and a number of other members of the Association chosen to represent differing opinions on this topic. There are 32 replies at hand, expressing various shades of opinion, but all helpful and designed to build up realistic means of carrying out the intention of the Board.

A number of answers have discussed some of the problems involved. For example, it is properly observed that in its national and sectional meetings, the Association is guest of a host institution. One southerner writes:

An indispensable item in the effectiveness of the Association and Society in promoting mathematical development in any section of the United States is that these organizations receive invitations to hold meetings at strategic locations within the regions. The role of host institution is not an easy one, particularly under present budgetary strains.

Another member writes:

When a section meets at an institution, the section is not the host, but is a guest. A guest is obligated to work for the welfare of the host as long as he is a guest.

Another southerner writes:

I believe that it would be possible now, in most places, for members of the Negro or any other race to attend business and program meetings of the organization. In view of this, we might consider the matter of discontinuing the social functions and holding only meetings to which anyone could be admitted.

The same suggestion of canceling the banquet was made by several others. In this connection, another southern mathematician from the same section writes:

I have heard that there have been suggestions for canceling the banquet at ...I do not think this is a good way to face the issue and have expressed myself in that way. It seems to me a retreat. I was born in ..., have lived here all my past life, and all my teaching has been in this state. I am eager that we go forward.

It is your president's suggestion that the decision between these two alternatives be left to the discretion of each section, which would then be able to take into account current circumstances at the host institution, it being understood that a banquet held in the name of the Association is arranged to follow the expressed intentions of the Board of Governors.

About 20 replies said in essence ``I heartily approve the resolution passed by the Board of Governors at its September meeting.''

One letter, from a negro mathematician, pointed out in vigorous terms that the matter of suitable living accommodations at a meeting is of real importance to members of his race, and is essential, in order that these members be able to attend a meeting and to feel that they are welcome. Your president suggests that, at meetings where living accommodations are arranged, the local arrangements committee should make appropriate plans for all members. The character of these plans depends on the circumstances. For example:

First, the problem of color is too big for us to solve on any general scale; we can at most solve it for ourselves. My suggestion for its solution is for us to hold our Meetings, regional and national, only at those places or institutions which will make satisfactory arrangements. These arrangements would pertain to (1) eating (including the banquet) and (2) attendance at the meeting place; they would not include (3) dormitory facilities. I believe it better to work on the first two items now, and the third might eventually come about in time. ...At the section meeting here; we arranged to accommodate the colored registrants at houses in town.

Many letters made encouraging reports of meetings held by other organizations. Examples:

Only recently has membership in the ...Academy of Sciences been opened to negroes. Last week that organization had its annual meeting in ..., and several negroes attended.
I belong to a professional group which has members of both the white and colored races. We solve our problem by meeting in an office conference room and having lunches sent in.
Two negroes came to the meeting, took their places in the room, and remained to the end of the meeting. At the end of the session they remained in the room and several members engaged in conversation with them. From the meeting place, the members went to the home of the President, and the two Negroes went with them. At the door the guests were greeted by the lady of the house. During the tea some members insisted that the two men should come to the banquet ...the Negroes declined. ...The secretary of ...Academy of Science this year is a Negro.
On several special occasions the University accepted Negroes at banquets and luncheons in the Student Union. I believe there were two colored persons present at the annual dinner of the ...Academy of Science held here last year. ...Negro representatives from some of our colored schools were included in the luncheon held here for the College Presidents and Representatives of the State institutions.

One member made the excellent suggestion that it would be most effective to have each section concerned discuss at a meeting the ways and means of realizing the Board's intention. Your President would welcome such discussions.

The most succinct statement of the situation comes from a distinguished southern mathematician, who says:

I feel that such discrimination should end, and that the way to stop it is just to stop.