Samuel P. Massie
Dr. Samuel Proctor Massie, Jr. (July 3, 1919-April 10, 2005) was the President of North Carolina College at Durham. He was also the first black professor at the United States Naval Academy.
Life and Education
Dr. Samuel P. Massie, Jr. was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. His father, Samuel Proctor Massie Sr, was a high school and junior college biology teacher and his mother, Earlee Jacko Massie, was a teacher at a rural one-room schoolhouse in Keo. Samuel was a highly intelligent and a very high level reader which led to him being skipped grades throughout his school career. He enrolled in Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School, where his father taught, at 10 years old. He completed and graduated high school in 1932 at 13 years old.
After high school, he worked at a grocery store for a year because he was too young for college. In 1934, he enrolled in Dunbar Junior College in Little Rock where he studied math and liberal arts. He was elected Student Body President during his second year. After earning an Associate's degree, he entered Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanic and Normal College in 1936. He had initially applied to University of Arkansas in Fayetteville but was turned down due to his race. Massie had decided early on that he wanted to be a chemist to find a cure for his father's asthma so he majored in Chemistry with a minor in French and Math. He graduated at 18 years old with a B.S. in Chemistry with the highest honors.
Dr. Massie went on to receive a scholarship and complete a M.S. in Chemistry in 1940 from Fisk University in Nashville. He went on to become an associate professor of math and physics as well as the acting head of the Math and Physics department at Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College.
In 1941, Dr. Massie left Arkansas AMN to pursue his Ph.D. at Iowa State College. He notes that he was passed over for a teaching assistantship in the Chemistry department due to his race. He also had to hitchhike to classes since the closest housing for Black students was three miles from campus. He also noted that, while at Iowa State, he was assigned a separate lab space "next to the rats in the basement" until he proved himself.
In 1943, Massie returned to Arkansas to attend his father's funeral and to renew his draft deferment. A member of the draft board decided that he had too much education for a black man and rejected his deferment, making him eligible for the draft. He contacted Dr. Henry Gilman at Iowa State to discuss his predicament. Dr. Henry Gilman assigned him to work full-time as a research assistant on a special research team under his supervision that worked on the Manhattan Project (a top secret effort to develop an atomic bomb). Massie contributed to research focusing on converting uranium isotopes into usable liquid compounds for the bomb. After the war, he resumed his studies and completed his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry in 1946. During this time, Massie published seven research papers with Gilman in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
In 1960, after serving at a number of historically black colleges and universities, he accepted a position at the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC as the Associate Program Director for Special Projects in Science Education. He was tasked with helping colleges and universities improve their labs and libraries.
In 1966, after serving three years as the President of North Carolina College at Durham, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to a Chemistry professorship at the United States Naval Academy. He was the first Black professor at the Academy and as such, experienced a lot of open racism there and in Annapolis as a whole. While at the Naval Academy, his extensive research contributed to the field of human health and environmental science. He researched drugs to infections such as malaria, meningitis, cancer and herpes. In 1985, he and his colleagues were awarded a patent for an antibiotic to treat gonorrhea. He also served on the Academy's Equal Employment Opportunity Committee and helped establish a African American Studies program there. In 1990, Massie received a faculty achievement award from the Naval Academy. In 1994, he retired from the Academy as Professor Emeritus.
Dr. Massie died in Laurel, Maryland on April 10, 2005. He is buried in St. Anne's Cemetery in Annapolis.
After completing his Ph.D., Massie accepted a position as a professor in the Chemistry department at Fisk University. He left Fisk after a year to teach and chair the Chemistry department at Langston University where he taught until 1953. In his final year at Langston, he was elected President of the Oklahoma Academy of Science.
In 1953, he returned to Fisk to be a professor and Chair of their Chemistry department. His research there led to the development of the anti-psychotic drug, Thorazine. That research is still highly regarded today.
In 1961, he became a professor and Chair of the Pharmaceutical Chemistry department at Howard University.
He left Howard in 1963 to become the president of North Carolina College at Durham.
He lectured at many HBCUs including Dillard, Virginia State, and University of Maryland - Eastern Shore. He received honorary degrees from Bowie State amongst a list of other places.
In 1970, University of Arkansas awarded Massie with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
Dr. Massie was a member of the Maryland State Board of Community Colleges for twenty one years -- he served as the Chairman of the Board for ten years. In 1989, the Board established a Massie Science Prize in his honor, to be awarded to an outstanding science student at a Maryland community college.
In 1981, Iowa State University awarded with the Distinguished Achievement Citation -- the University's highest award.
Chemical and Engineering News in 1998 named Dr. Massie as one of the top seventy-five chemists of all time, along with Marie Curie, and George Washington Carver.
In 1994, the United States Department of Energy created the Dr. Samuel P. Massie Chair of Excellence, a $14.7 million grant to nine historically black colleges and one for Latinx students to further environmental research.
In 1995, Dr. Massie's portrait was hung in the National Academy of Sciences Gallery.
- Dr. Samuel P. Massie's Biography
- Atomic Heritage Foundation
- Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
- U.S. Naval Academy Nimitz Library | Dr. Samuel Massie Finding Aid