David Blackwell was one of the most notable mathematicians and statisticians of his time. Dr. Blackwell also broke a couple of racial barriers and authored books on several prominent math theories.
Blackwell was born April 24, 1919 in Centralia, Illinois. As a boy, Blackwell wasn’t interested in math but a school teacher taught him geometry and he fell in love with it. At 16, Blackwell, by then a math prodigy, entered the University of Illinois. He barreled through his undergraduate and graduate coursework, leaving the school a with bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics by the age of 22.
The following year, Blackwell studied mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study which was housed at Princeton University. Blackwell’s hopes of teaching at the school were dashed because of the school’s discriminatory policies. He applied to teach math at the University of California at Berkeley but was turned down once more due to race.
Blackwell took his talents to a pair of HBCUs before landing at Howard University and becoming a full professor and head of the school’s math department. During this period, Blackwell worked on game theory, probability theory, and Bayesian statistics.
In 1954, UC Berkley hired Blackwell to join the faculty, where he remained for the duration of his career, retiring as the first Black tenured faculty member in 1988. He is also the first Black inductee into the National Academy of Sciences. Among his publications, his 1954 book Theory of Games and Statistical Decisions and his 1969 book Basic Statistics are still in use today.
Blackwell passed in 2010 at the age of 91.