Little Known Black History Fact: Dr. Samuel Massie

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  • Black WWII chemist, Dr. Samuel P. Massie, Jr., is noted for his work on uranium isotopes for the atomic bomb. He made history as the first black faculty member of the U.S. Naval Academy in 1966. Named among great scientists like George Washington Carver and DNA pioneers Watson and Crick, Dr. Massie conducted decades of work that led to the development of drugs to treat mental illness, malaria, meningitis, gonorrhea, herpes, and cancer.

    Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Dr. Massie was a prodigy who graduated from high school at age 13. His drive to study medicine came from his desire to cure his father’s severe asthma. After working hard to save money to attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Dr. Massie was declined admission because he was black. He turned to University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff for an education.

    After getting a degree from UAPB and a Masters from Fisk University, he turned his sights to Iowa State University, where he had to hitchhike to class because housing for blacks was over three miles from campus. Dr. Massie and the lab rats shared a space in the basement of the school until he proved himself worthy to be among the white students.

    Before he reached his PH.D, the draft board of Pine Bluff tried to recruit him to the war, citing that he had enough education. With the help of a colleague, Dr. Massie was called to work on the research team for the atomic bomb instead. During that time, he received his doctorate.

    In 1954, Dr. Massie published an article on a chemical that led to the development of the anti-psychotic drug Thorazine.

    In 1994, the U.S. Department of Energy created the Dr. Samuel P. Massie Chair of Excellence, a $14.7 million grant to nine historically black colleges and universities to further environmental research.

    Dr. Massie passed away in 2005.
     

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