Professor Joseph Roye Applegate is best known as the first Black faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A master speaker of 13 languages, Professor Applegate is also responsible for creating the first Ph.D. Program for African Studies in the U.S.

Applegate was born July 25, 1925 in Wildwood, New Jersey, His family relocated to Philadelphia where he was exposed to Yiddish and Italian speech which piqued his interest in languages. After graduating from Temple University, he completed his master’s and Ph.D. Programs in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania.

After joining MIT in 1955, the following year Applegate was the historic selection as the institute’s first Black faculty member. While at MIT, Applegate worked on a “mechanical translation” project and connected with other notable linguists like the esteemed professor and author Noam Chomsky.

After a stint teaching the Berber languages of Morocco at UCLA, Applegate headed back East to join Howard University’s African Studies department. It was there when Applegate created the doctorate program. He also authored several papers centered on the Berber language and was regarded as one of Americans top experts. Beyond the 13 spoken languages, Applegate reportedly could read and write several others.

Applegate retired from Howard University in 2003. He passed the following year after a long illness.

He was 78.

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