Massie, Samuel Proctor Jr. 1919–

views updated

Samuel Proctor Massie, Jr. 1919

Organic chemist, professor

Graduated fromHigh School at 13

Worked on the Manhattan Project

First Black Professor at Naval Academy

Joined Educational Software Company

Professorship Created in His Honor


Dr. Samuel P. Massie, Jr. is one of the most distinguished organic chemists and chemistry educators in the United States. In his long career as an educator, Massie has taught at several historically black colleges, including Fisk University. In 1966 he became the first African-American professor at the prestigious Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where he taught for more than 25 years. Massie also served as chair of the chemistry department from 1977 to 1981, becoming the academys first black department chair.

Samuel Proctor Massie, Jr. was born on July 3, 1919 in Little Rock, Arkansas. His parents had met at Shorter College in North Little Rock, where they were both studying to become schoolteachers. Massies father later became a high school and junior college biology instructor in Little Rock, while his mother taught in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Keo, Arkansas, about 18 miles away. As was fairly common in those days, Massie accompanied his mother to her teaching job, where he studied along with the older children.

Graduated fromHigh School at 13

Massie intellectual abilities were evident extremely early. He learned to read at the astonishingly early age of two, andpartly because he had already been in school for yearshe was at the third-grade level when he officially began first grade. During his elementary and secondary schooling, Massie skipped grade after grade, until he found himself enrolled at Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School, where his father taught, at the age of ten. Massie completed his high school education in 1932, when he was just 13 years old.

Too young to go to college, Massie worked in a grocery store for a year after his high school graduation. In 1934, he enrolled in Dunbar Junior College in Little Rock, where he studied mathematics and the liberal arts. During his second year at the college, Massies classmates elected him student body president.

After earning an associates degree, Massie entered the all-black Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) in 1936. Here he majored in chemistry and minored in mathematics and French. In addition to taking extra classes each term, Massie joined the debate team and edited the college yearbook. In 1938 at the age of 18, he graduated with a B.S. in chemistry with highest honors.

At a Glance

Born on July 3, 1919, in Little Rock, AR; son of Samuel Proctor Massie and his wife; married Gloria Thompkins; children: three sons. Education; Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College, B.S. in chemistry, 1938; Fisk University, M.A., 1940; Iowa State University, Ph.D., 1946.

Career: Organic chemist and chemistry professor. Arkansas AMN College, associate professor of mathematics and physics, acting head of math and physics dept, 1940-41; Iowa State University, research associate, 1943-46; Fisk Univ., chemistry instructor, 1946-47; Langston Univ., professor, chemistry dept chairman, 1947-53; Fisk Univ., prof., chemistry department chair, 1953-60; National Science Foundation, program director, 1960-63; Howard Univ., professor, pharmaceutical chemistry chair, 1961-63; North Carolina Coll.-Durham, pres., 1963-66; U.S. Naval Academy, chemistry prof., 1966-94, chair, 1977-81; Bingwa Software Co., vice pres, for education, 1994-.

Selected Awards: One of the six best college-level chemistry teachers, Manufacturing Chemists Association, 1961; Distinguished Achievement Citation, Iowa State Univ., 1981; Faculty achievement award, Naval Academy, 1990; honorary member, National Naval Officers Assoc, 1993; U.S. Naval Academy, professor emeritus, 1994; One of the worlds 75 most distinguished chemists, Chemical and Engineering News, 1998; hon. doctorates from the Univ. of Arkansas, Lehigh Univ., Univ. of Maryland, Bowie State Univ., and Wooster College.

Member: President, Oklahoma Academy of Science, 1953; National Pres., Beta Kappa Chi Scientific Honorary Society, 1958-60; Board of Trustees, Wooster College, 1966-87; State Board for Community Colleges, 1968-; Chair, Governors Science Advisory Council, Maryland for 10 years; Board of Directors, Bethune-DuBois Company.

Addresses: Office Bingwa Software Company, 6825 Jimmy Carter Blvd., Suite 1690, Norcross, GA 30071.

With his impressive academic record, Massie had no difficulty winning a scholarship to continue his studies at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He earned his masters degree in chemistry in 1940. Later that year, Massie returned to Arkansas AMN College, where he took a position as associate professor of mathematics and physics, and acting head of the math and physics department.

In 1941 Massie left Arkansas to pursue his doctorate at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. However, when Massie arrived at Iowa State, he discovered that he had not left racial barriers behind in the South. He was not allowed to live on campus, and he was passed over for a teaching assistantship in the chemistry department. I was disappointed that I couldnt have a fellowship at Iowa State, Massie told Visions, the universitys alumni magazine, adding simply, I needed the money.

Worked on the Manhattan Project

Meanwhile, World War II had begun. Because Massie was enrolled in higher education, he had a draft deferment; but before he could complete his doctoral studies, the draft board in Arkansas revoked it. Forced to drop out of graduate school temporarily, Massie took a position as a research associate at Iowa State from 1943 to 1946. Under the supervision of chemistry professor Henry Gilman, Massie worked on a special research team that was part of the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort to develop an atomic bomb.

When the war was over, Massie returned to working on his dissertation, High-Molecular Weight Compounds of Nitrogen and Sulfur as Therapeutic Agents. He earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Iowa State in 1946.

Massie then accepted a position as a chemistry instructor at his alma mater, Fisk University. At Fisk, he met student Gloria Thompkins, who was president of the class of 1947. The couple married and eventually had three sons. Gloria became a psychology professor, and society editor for Jet magazine.

After just a year at Fisk, Massie was offered a job as professor of chemistry and chair of the chemistry department at Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma. Massie taught there until 1953. In his final year, he was elected president of the Oklahoma Academy of Sciencea remarkable achievement for an African American in the South at the time.

In 1953 Massie returned once again to Fisk, where he served as professor of chemistry and chair of the chemistry department. He also formed a research team to study phenothiazine, a chemical that he had begun researching as a graduate student. Soon afterward, phenothiazine became a subject of great interest, as research teams around the world discovered its uses in treating psychiatric disorders and in cancer therapy. Massies article, The Chemistry of Phenothiazine, published in 1954, became an important resource for these researchers, and is still regarded as a classic.

Massie accepted a position at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Washington, D.C. in 1960. As an associate program director for special projects in science education, he helped colleges and universities improve their laboratories and libraries. In 1961, while still at the NSF, Massie took a part-time position as the chair of pharmaceutical chemistry at Howard University, also in Washington, D.C. That year, the Manufacturing Chemists Association named Massie one of the six best college-level chemistry teachers in the country.

First Black Professor at Naval Academy

In 1963 Massie became president of North Carolina College at Durham (now North Carolina Central University). During this time, Massie caught the attention of President Lyndon Johnson. In 1966, Johnson appointed him to a chemistry professorship at the prestigious United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Massie became the first black professor at the nearly all-white institution.

Even at this stage in his career, however, Massie encountered open racism: the community of Annapolis was not ready to accept Massie and his family. After a long struggle to find a suitable place to live, the family eventually settled in a neighborhood where only a few years earlier, a sign had warned against blacks entering the area after sunset. A few years later, the Massies settled in the nearby town of Laurel, Maryland.

Massie also had to contend with his students, many of whom had never been taught by an African American before. When I arrived at the Academy, for the first time in many of these students lives, the opinion of a black person was important to them, he told Visions. Massies superlative teaching ability overcame any resistance, however, and he soon became one of the academys most popular teachers. In 1977 Massie was appointed chair of the department of chemistry at the Naval Academy, a position he held until 1981. He also co-founded the academys black studies program.

During his years at the academy, much of Massies research focused on human health in a military context. He developed foaming agents that dispersed poisonous gases, protecting soldiers from their deadly effects. He researched drugs to treat infections such as malaria, meningitis, and herpes. In 1985, Massie and his colleagues were awarded a patent for an antibiotic to treat gonorrhea.

Massie also made significant contributions in the discipline of environmental science. He conducted a series of studies on chemicals that are commonly used on naval shipssuch as detergents and fire retardantsseeking to discover whether they harm marine life. He also investigated whether trace amounts of toxic metals are released into the water when rust and corrosion are cleaned off a ship.

In addition to his teaching and his research, Massie found time to serve as a member of the Maryland State Board of Community Colleges. In his 21 years on the boardten as chairMassie fought for more investment in science education. 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 1990 Massie received a faculty achievement award from the Naval Academy. Three years later, he became the second civilian and the first African American to become an honorary member of the National Naval Officers Association. The following year, Massie retired from the Naval Academy, which named him a professor emeritus.

Joined Educational Software Company

Unable to give up work entirely, Massie accepted a position as vice president for education at the Bingwa Software Company, a company that produces educational software using multicultural models. A typical product, the Mathematical Heritage Series for first- and second-graders, combines math concepts with the biographies of real-life role models. Massie himself appears in the segment on ordering numbers.

Massie has lectured at numerous colleges and universities, including Swarthmore College, Dillard University, Virginia State University, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, St. Andrews Presbyterian College, Ripon College, and the University of Northern Colorado. He has published widely in scientific journals, and delivered papers at conferences in Zurich, Switzerland; Tokyo, Japan; Mexico City, Mexico and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Massie has also received countless awards throughout his career. One memorable award was an honorary doctorate from the University of Arkansas, which once had denied him admission on the basis of race. Other honorary degrees came from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, the University of Maryland, Bowie State University in Maryland and Wooster College in Ohio. In 1981 Iowa State University honored him with the Distinguished Achievement Citation, the universitys highest alumni award.

In 1994 information about Massies life and career was placed on permanent display in the Science in American Life exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute. The following year, his portrait was hung in the National Academy of Science gallery. In 1998 Chemical and Engineering News named Massie one of the worlds 75 most distinguished chemists, a list that also included Marie Curie and Linus Pauling; Massie was among just 32 living scientists and three African Americans on the prestigious list.

Professorship Created in His Honor

However, of all his honors and awards, Massie was proudest of the environmental engineering professorship that the Department of Energy established in his name. In 1994 the Dr. Samuel P. Massie Chair of Excellence, worth $14.7 million, was awarded to ten universitiesnine historically black colleges, and one that serves primarily Hispanic students. The grants will help to support groundbreaking environmental research and to produce top-level graduates.

In addition to his careers as a chemist and an educator, Massie was also a well-regarded inspirational speaker. He has frequently spoken to youth groups, encouraging young peopleespecially minoritiesto consider pursuing careers in science and technology. In a speech given to the Economic Club of Detroit and archived on the web site for the Massie Chairs of Excellence Massie said that the ten most important two-letter words in the English language are If it is to be, it is up to me.



Distinguished African American Scientists of the 20th Century, Oryx Press, 1996.

Notable Black American Scientists, Gale, 1999.

Notable Twentieth-Century Scientists, Gale, 1995.


The Bingwa home page,

Iowa State University Visions,

Chemical & Engineering News,

The Dr. Samuel P. Massie Chairs of Excellence Home Page,

Carrie Golus

About this article

Massie, Samuel Proctor Jr. 1919–

Updated About content Print Article