Images of hands understanding and documenting the historical role of the AMS in racial discrimination

 

In recognition of the AMS's complicity in inequities in the mathematics community, the AMS Council established a task force to understand this facet of the history of the AMS. Acknowledging our mistakes is not enough: we must also work to remedy them. The task force is charged with listening to and seeking input from the mathematics community, specifically from Black mathematicians. These conversations will form the basis for actions that the AMS can undertake to rectify systemic inequities in the mathematics community.

The goals of the Task Force are to:

  1. help the mathematical community understand the historical role of the AMS in racial discrimination; and
  2. consider and recommend actions addressing the impact of discrimination and inequities to the AMS Council and Board of Trustees.

To support these goals, the Task Force will gather information and resources; produce a report and any other learning resources for wide dissemination; and advise the Council on how to accept responsibility for the actions of the Society. Read more about the AMS Action Plan after #ShutDownSTEM.

Members of the task force include:

  • Tasha Inniss
  • Jim Lewis
  • Irina Mitrea
  • Kasso Okoudjou (co-chair)
  • Adriana Salerno
  • Francis Su (co-chair)
  • Dylan Thurston

We will use this page to update the mathematics community on our progress.

The Task Force met for the first time on July 1 to draft plans for gathering information. We will review AMS actions (direct or indirect, from founding to present) and speak with members of the mathematical community to understand ways the AMS has contributed to racial discrimination or an unwelcome environment for African American and other people of color within AMS, including representation within AMS awards and leadership. We aim to have a report for the AMS Council by JMM 2021. 

We would like to thank everyone who has given us feedback, and we encourage anyone willing to share relevant information or suggestions with the Task Force to do so via the form below. 

 

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Appendix

Read A Brief History of the American Mathematical Society

The following list will be expanded as the Task Force conducts its work. If you have input or resources you think we should consider, please submit them using the form above. We thank Jesse Kass for beginning this list for us [Kas20b].

  • At the 1936 AMS meeting at Duke University, William Claytor was barred from the (whites-only) hotel reserved for conference participants and had to stay at the private residence of an African American family. [Par 16, p. 227]
  • In 1947, J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr. was invited by the AMS Associate Secretary to attend an AMS meeting held at the University of Georgia, but arrangements had been made for food and lodging to be provided by an African American family rather than the hotels and restaurants that were provided for white mathematicians. Ultimately he did not participate in the meeting: "In 1947 [J. Ernest] Wilkins was a few years past the Ph. D. he had earned at the University of Chicago slightly before his nineteenth birthday. He received a letter from the AMS Associate Secretary for that region urging him to come and saying that very satisfactory arrangements had been made with which they were sure he'd be pleased: they had found a "nice colored family" with whom he could stay and where he would take his meals! The hospitality of the University of Georgia (and of the AMS) was not for him. This is why the meeting there was totally white." [Lor96]
  • While a professor at Howard University, David Blackwell traveled to an AMS meeting in Virginia, but upon arriving found that he was not allowed to stay at the dormitory that had been reserved for participants. He then left the meeting. [Lor96]
  • In 1951, mathematicians at Fisk University requested that the AMS insert into its bylaws "explicit and effective protection of the rights of all members to participate fully freely and equally" in its affairs without regard to race. The AMS did not modify its bylaws, although it did pass a non-discriminatory motion which seems to have had limited impact. The full text of the request can be found in [Lor51].
  • Some organizers of AMS meetings offered separate hotel accommodations to African American participants. For example, this occurred at the 551st meeting at Duke University in 1958.
  • Some AMS meetings were held at segregated universities and colleges. For example, a sectional meeting in 1954 was held at the University of Alabama.
  • In 1951, the AMS sold its library to the University of Georgia. At the time, African Americans were not allowed to use the university library. (The University of Georgia was segregated until 1961). [Lor96]

Bibliography