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Friday, 28 June 2013
BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY : AFRICAN AMERICAN PROFESSOR OF MATHEMATICS AND A CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST LEE LORCH : GOES INTO THE " HALL OF BLACK GENIUS "
BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY Lee Lorch (born September 20, 1915) is a mathematician and was an early civil rights activist, who is currently Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at York University in Toronto, CanHe did mathematically related work for the war effort in a "draft exempt" job but quit in 1943 to enlist in the United States Army. He saw service in India and the Pacific Theater of World War IIbefore being demobilized in 1946. Lorch obtained a teaching position at the City College of New York following the war but was soon fired because of his civil rights work on behalf of African-Americans.He was born in New York City and graduated from Cornell University in 1935 and obtained his PhD in mathematics from the University of Cincinnati in 1941.
"I had become very aware of racism through the war; not just anti-Semitism, but the way the American army treated black soldiers. On the troop transport overseas, it was always the black company on board that had to clean the ship and do the dirty work, and I felt very uncomfortable with that', Lorch told an interviewer in 2007.
Some time after taking up his job at City College, he moved into Stuyvesant Town, a development owned by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company built with financial and legal support from New York City for war veterans. Outraged at the development's "No Negroes" policy, Lorch became a vice-chair of a tenant's committee formed to eliminate this discrimination. This had two-thirds support from the other tenants. City College, though conceding the excellence of his work, dismissed Lorch, refusing to give any reason. Lorch obtained a new position at Penn State University, but rather than give up his apartment he asked a black friend and his family to move into his dwelling as "guests", a move which circumvented the policy against accepting housing applications from blacks, but which also resulted in his being fired from Penn State, as reported in the New York Times on April 10, 1950. An editorial in the New York Times on April 11 recalled the suspicious nature of his dismissal from City College the previous year, and called upon Penn State to reconsider, to no avail.
"It's hard to imagine now, but there was no civil rights legislation back then. You could be fired without explanation. But how could you do anything else, in all good conscience?" said Lorch.
After being fired by Penn State, Lorch obtained a teaching position at Fisk University, a black college located in Tennessee, in 1950.
In 1951, he protested when the Mathematical Association of America held a regional meeting in a "whites only" Nashville, Tennessee hotel which would not admit black members of the association.
In 1955, Lorch was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee after he and his wife, Grace, attempted to enroll their daughter, Alice, in an all-black elementary school after theUnited States Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that school segregation was unconstitutional. The Committee's questioning immediately went in a political direction: though Lorch "pointedly denied" engaging in any Communist activity during his tenure at Fisk, he refused to answer questions about his party membership prior to 1941, citing the right to do so under theFifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. His refusal to testify before HUAC resulted in his being indicted, tried and acquitted for contempt of Congress nevertheless, during the House of Un-American Activities Committee hearing Fisk University's president, Charles S. Johnson, issued a statement that Lorch's position before the HUAC was "for all practical purposes tantamount to admission of membership in the Communist Party." Despite the appeals on Lorch's behalf from 48 out of 70 staff members, 22 student body leaders, and 150 alumni, Fisk ended his contract.
In 1957, Lorch was working as chair of the Mathematics Department at Philander Smith College, a small black college in Little Rock, Arkansas. That year, he and his wife, Grace, helped escort the Little Rock Nine, nine high school students attempting to be the first black students to enroll at Little Rock Central High School against white segregationist opposition that was so ferocious his wife had to save a 15 year-old black girl from a mob. Faced with threats and sticks of dynamite left in their garage and with the school's funding at risk, Lorch resigned and was again forced to look for new employment.
In 1959, facing a blacklist by most US universities, Lorch accepted a position with the University of Alberta and moved his family to Canada. He moved to York University in Toronto in 1968 and taught there until his retirement in 1985. He still maintains an office at York and, in 2007, was collaborating with Martin Muldoon on a paper about Bessel functions.
In his academic work, Lorch focused on several subfields of classical analysis such as summability theory, Fourier analysis, ordinary differential equations and real analysis.
He has been recognized for his academic work with a fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada, election to the councils of the Canadian Mathematical Society, the American Mathematical Society and the Royal Society of Canada.
Two of the colleges that fired him, Fisk and City University, have awarded Lorch with honorary degrees. He was also honored by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1990 and by Spelman College. In 2003, the International Society for Analysis, its Applications and Computation presented him with an honorary life membership for distinguished mathematical contributions and for his struggles for the disadvantaged and world peace.
In 2007, Lorch was awarded with the Mathematical Association of America's Yueh-Gin Gung and Dr. Charles Y. Hu Distinguished Service to Mathematics Award and he was the first Canadian to be elected to the Cuban Academy of Sciences. In 2012 he became a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.
Lorch's legacy as a teacher at black universities such as Fisk and Philander Smith was to encourage black students including black women to pursue graduate study in mathematics. Of the 21 American black women who obtained a PhD in mathematics before 1980, Lorch taught three during his tenure at Fisk University.