Biologist, college president
The third of eight children, Samuel Milton Nabrit was born in Macon, Georgia on February 21, 1905 to James Madison and Augusta Gertrude (West) Nabrit. His father was a Baptist minister and a graduate of Morehouse. He also taught at the Central City College in Macon. The Nabrit family moved to Augusta, Georgia in 1912 because the father had become the pastor of the Springfield Baptist Church and a teacher at the Walker Baptist Institute.
Nabrit was a pupil at the Walker Baptist Institute where his father taught. His studies included Latin, Greek, and physics, which he learned under his father. He was the valedictorian of the 1921 graduating class. After high school, he continued his post-secondary education at Morehouse College majoring in biology. He was an active member of sports and social organizations such as football and Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He also managed the student paper. He graduated with a BA. in biology with honors in 1925.
Nabrit's success allowed him to remain at Morehouse as a teacher in the Zoology Department. Within his college career, he had taken summer courses at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois. Afterwards, he took up his post at Morehouse and retained a faculty appointment for six years (1925–31). Nabrit furthered his studies in biology at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island during the year 1927–28. He had been granted a leave of absence from Morehouse to continue his education on a general education board fellowship. As a result, he received his M.S. degree in biology in 1928. Nabrit married Constance Crocker on August 8, 1927. They had no children.
In addition to earning his master's degree, Nabrit conducted research at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, every summer from 1927 to 1932. Although other things were interesting to him, he primarily studied the regeneration of the tail fins of fish. The Biological Bulletin published the results of Nabrit's work. He used this work as the basis for his doctoral dissertation. Not only did Nabrit earn his doctorate in 1932, he became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in biology from Brown University. After receiving his doctorate, he did postdoctoral work from 1943 to 1950 at the following institutions: Teachers College, Columbia University and the University of Brussels in Belgium.
Nabrit chaired the Biology Department of Atlanta University from 1932 to 1947. Later, he was appointed dean of the graduate school of arts and sciences of Atlanta University in 1947; he served as dean for eight years.
Nabrit was vital to the establishment of the National Institute of Science, which was founded in 1943. Nabrit and others sought to explore the teaching and research problems of Negro scientists. He strongly advocated for science and mathematics teachers to study in research centers where they can get the best facilities and contact other scientists in their field. Consequently, Nabrit served as the third president of the National Institute of Science from 1945 to 1946. The membership mainly consisted of science teachers in Negro colleges and universities.
During the summer of 1955, Raphael O'Hara Lanier resigned as president of Texas Southern University, and the board of directors of the school appointed Nabrit second president. He committed to the duties of the executive office on September 1, 1955, and his inauguration was held on March 18, 1956. Nabrit wanted to develop a basic skills workshop to prepare students for successful performance in leading universities.
Honors and Memberships
Nabrit received an honorary LL.D. degree at Morehouse College and an honorary D.S. degree at Brown University. He was involved in several organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society of Zoologists, the New York Academy of Science, and the Society for the Study of Growth and Development. He was also a member of the Beta Kappa Chi and Sigma Pi Phi fraternities. Nabrit died on December 30, 2003, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Black Firsts: 4,000 Groundbreaking and Pioneering Historical Events. 2nd ed. Canton, Mich.: Visible Ink Press, 2003.
Emory University. http://www.emory.edu/ (Accessed 8 December 2005).
- Born in Macon, Georgia on February 21
- Moves with family to Augusta, Georgia
- Graduates from Morehouse College with B.A. in biology; remains at Morehouse as a teacher in the zoology department
- Marries Constance Crocker on August 8
- Receives M.S. degree from Morehouse
- Pursues graduate studies at Brown University
- Earns a Ph.D. from Brown University
- Serves as chairman of Atlanta University's biology department in Atlanta, Georgia
- Serves as dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Atlanta University
- Becomes president of Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas
- Operates the Southern Fellowships Fund
- Retires from the Southern Fellowships Fund; accepts the position of interim director of the Atlanta University Center
- Dies in Atlanta, Georgia on December 30