A native of Waycross, Georgia, Dr. Pierce graduated from Atlanta University with his undergraduate degree and earned his doctorate degree in mathematics from the University of Michigan. He worked as a math professor and in other administrative positions at several universities including, Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University), Wiley University, Texas College, and then Texas Southern University where he spent the majority of his career. He eventually became the university’s president during the 1966-1967 school year. He was also a member of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, American Statistical Association, and the National Institute of Science.
Since the 1930s, Dr. Pierce was dedicated to raising the awareness of the importance of mathematics and science education. He believed that math should be made interesting and practical to all students and he published a textbook entitled Introductory College Mathematics and Applications (1937). While at Texas Southern University, he worked as a liaison between the university and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) during the early days of the space race. NASA was also beginning to form affirmative action plans and inclusion programs at that time. Dr. Pierce’s time as TSU president ended on a tumultuous note in May 1967 amid festering racial tensions, but he continued to work as a consultant for NASA before he passed away in 1969.
African-Americans remain underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields today and their contributions have been historically underappreciated. The former is related to the latter, which is why it is important that collections similar to Dr. Pierce’s are made available to the public for research. This collection is a part of a larger project at Amistad to highlight the accomplishments of African American in STEM professions throughout history and to increase the diversity of fields covered within archives, libraries, and museums. Funding assistance was received from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
Images from the Joseph A. Pierce Papers. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission