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Famous Black Mathematicians – Lawrence Williams

February 27, 2009

I thought I might close this series with someone from Texas (the state in which I live).  Lawrence Williams graduated high school in Livingston, TX and obtained his B.S degree in Math (physics minor) in 1969 from Texas Southern University .  His Ph.D. was obtained at the University of Michigan, specializing in operator theory.   His disseratation was “On Quasisimilarity of Operators on Hilbert Space”.    You can read more about his background and publication list here.

I found his story to be particularly inspiring.  Following is an excerpt from his MAA Biography.

“Lawrence Ray Williams attended public school at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Livingston, Texas. He graduated from high school in 1965 and then matriculated at Texas Southern University. There he encountered many role models who gave him support and confidence. Williams had never heard of a graduate degree when he started attending Texas Southern. But thanks to these mentors, he was made aware of graduate study and encouraged to attend graduate school. Among his most influential mathematics professors at Texas Southern University were Dr. Llayron Clarkson and Professors Alvin Wardlaw, Herman Jenkins and Robinson J. Parsons. He was also greatly influenced by Dr. Duvvury A.A.S. Narayana Rao, Professor and Head of the Physics Department. Williams spent countless hours in Dr. Rao’s physics laboratory conducting cutting-edge research in physics.

A high point of Williams’ undergraduate years occurred during his sophomore year when he spent one semester at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, as a participant in an exchange program. He took fifteen hours of courses in mathematics, chemistry and physics during that semester and received a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Having attended a segregated high school and a predominantly black university, Williams gained confidence from this experience that he could compete with any students. Moreover the bitterly cold winter in Wisconsin was a different experience in itself because he was accustomed to mild Texas winters. Williams received his bachelor’s degree with a major in mathematics and a minor in physics from Texas Southern in 1969.

After completing his undergraduate work, Williams was drafted into the United States Army. He began his graduate studies at the University of Michigan in 1971 after spending two years in the army. He received a master’s degree from Michigan in 1972 and a Ph.D. in 1976, both in mathematics. At Michigan, Williams wrote his Ph.D. dissertation in the area of operator theory under the direction of Dr. Carl M. Pearcy.”

Give a good person good inspiration and great things can happen.  I hope this series serves to inspire great black  mathematicians of future generations.

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