Person: Cox, Elbert
Elbert Frank Cox was an American mathematician and was the first African American to receive a PhD in Mathematics.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Johnson Cox was the principal of a high school, having taken courses at Evansville College and graduate studies at Indiana University.
- The district of Evansville, where Elbert was brought, was racially mixed but schooling was segregated.
- At high school Elbert showed talents which made his choice of career a difficult one.
- What must have made a decision harder to make was that Cox was awarded a music scholarship which would have enabled him to travel to Europe to study at the Prague Conservatory of Music.
- After returning to the United States, Cox was appointed to Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he became chairman of the Department of Natural Sciences.
- Cox received the scholarship and entered Cornell in September 1922.
- In 1925 Cox was awarded his doctorate for his thesis Polynomial solutions of difference equations.
- Williams felt that since Cox was the first person of his race in the world to be awarded a doctorate in mathematics it was necessary for him to have the recognition by a university outside the United States.
- In particular they point out that America produced a total of only 28 Ph.D.'s in mathematics in 1925 (one of whom was Cox), while this was the erea of the Ku Klux Klan with 31 African-Americans being murdered by lynching in 1926.
- After receiving his doctorate Cox was appointed as professor of physics at West Virginia State College.
- Cox was only the second faculty member to hold a doctorate and he set about trying to raise the level of the College which did not even possess a science library.
- In the year after his marriage, Cox was appointed associate professor of mathematics at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The University was open to students of any race, colour, or creed, but it had been founded in 1867 (named after General Oliver Otis Howard who persuaded Congress to provide funding) to provide advanced studies for black students.
- Cox had little opportunity to continue with his research.
- However Cox was an outstanding teacher of mathematics.
- Cox helped to build up the department to the point that the Ph.D. program became a practical next step.
- After Cox retired he hoped to be able to return to research and writing about mathematics.
- Howard University set up the Elbert F Cox Scholarship Fund in 1975 to help Black students progress to studying graduate level mathematics.
- The National Association of Mathematicians honoured Cox with the inauguration of the annual Cox-Talbot Address in 1980.
Born 5 December 1895, Evansville, Indiana, USA. Died 28 November 1969, Washington, D.C., USA.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
African American, Origin Usa
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive