March 3, 2023
This February for Black History Month, the Science, Y'all! Twitter highlighted a selection of influential geoscientists who are black. In case you missed it, we've compiled the threads into a blog post to archive it forever on the internet, making it easier to refer back to. Please get in contact if you'd like to contribute a profile to this topic!
Dr. Marguerite Thomas Williams: the first Black person to receive a doctorate in geology in the United States.
Dr. Marguerite Thomas Williams began her education at what is now the University of D.C., where she trained in teaching. After performing exceptionally, she got a scholarship to study geology at Howard & continued working as an elementary teacher.
She then earned an M.S. from Columbia in 1930 & a Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America in 1942. Her dissertation, A History of Erosion in the Anacostia Drainage Basin, studied natural & manmade erosion processes (flooding, farming, deforestation).
She was a full professor at the Miner Teachers College & taught night classes at Howard until she retired in 1955. Dr. Williams was one of the first geologists to study anthropological effects on flooding and erosion. Read more about Dr. Williams at this link.
Dr. Randolph Wilson Bromery: a geologist, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst (1971-79), and president of the Geological Society of America (1989).
After serving in the Tuskegee Airmen during WWII, Dr. Bromery got his B.S. in math from Howard in 1956. He was an aeromagnetic exploration geophysicist at USGS and went on to get an M.S. in geology from American University in 1962 & a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins in 1968.
Dr. Bromery was the first Black chancellor at UMass Amherst where he created the W.E.B. Du Bois Archives & initiated the Five College Consortium. He won the NAS Outstanding Black Scientist Award in 1997. Although Dr. Bromery passed in 2013, a GSA award lives on in his honor.
Read more about Dr. Randolph Wilson Bromery here.
Dr. Mack Gipson Jr.: the first Black man to obtain a PhD in geology in the U.S.!
Dr. Gipson got his B.S. in general science from Paine College in Augusta, GA. He was drafted into the U.S. Army, and served as a radio technician. A preference for outdoor work inspired Dr. Gipson to explore field geology. Dr. Gipson obtained his Ph.D. in geology from the University of Chicago in 1963, where he studied shale deposits in central Illinois.
He served in a variety of positions—directing an NSF project for high schoolers, working for oil corporations like Exxon and ERCO, and founding the geology department at what is now Virginia State University, where other influential Black geoscientists, such as Dr. John Leftwich, gained their training and doctorates.
In 1986, Dr. Mack Gipson became a geology professor at the University of South Carolina. He served as the founding advisor for what is now the National Association of Black Geoscientists.
Dr. Gipson also analyzed some of the first images of Mars during the NASA Mariner-9 mission. Read more about Dr. Gipson’s background and many contributions to geology here.
Dr. Gladys West: a US Air Force Hall of Famer who contributed to modeling the shape of the Earth, which later led to the development of the Global Positioning System (GPS).
Gladys West grew up in Virginia in a community of sharecroppers. On graduating high school at the top of her class in 1948, Dr. West secured a scholarship for what is now Virginia State University and obtained a B.S. in mathematics (1952), and a M.S. in mathematics (1955).
She was the second Black woman ever hired at the Naval Proving Ground in Dahlgren, and worked as a programmer and project manager for data processing, while also completing her second master’s degree. Over her 42 years of work at Dahlgren (1956-1998), West’s work focused on the analysis of satellite data using the fastest computers of the day. She contributed to studies on Pluto & Neptune’s orbital motions, oversaw the first ocean-monitoring satellite (Seaseat), & most influentially, made extremely accurate models of the Earth’s shape (the geoid).
These models were later used as the basis for the Global Positioning System (GPS). Dr. Gladys West obtained her PhD in 2000, at the age of 70. In 2018, she was finally recognized for her contributions and inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame.
She was also awarded Female Alumna of the Year at the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Awards; selected as one of the BBC’s 100 Women of 2018, and recognized by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering with their highest honor.
Read more about Dr. West in her own words in her memoir “It Began with a Dream”, or here.