Joseph A. Pierce


Born: August 10, 1902.
place: Waycross, Georgia

Died Sept.18,1969

A.B. from Atlanta University; M.A. University of Michigan

Ph.D. (1938) from University of Michigan
thesis: A Study of a Universe of n Finite Populations with Application to Moment-Function Adjustments for Grouped Data; advisor

Joseph Pierce was the son of William Arthur Pierce, a Methodist minister, and Fannie McGraw. Orphaned at an early age, Pierce was raised by his maternal uncle, Joseph McGraw, in Waycross. Following studies in sociology and business and participation in varsity football, in 1925 Pierce received a B.A. degree from Atlanta University. He accepted an assignment as assistant coach at Texas College in Tyler, Texas, but upon arrival he learned that he would also be required to teach mathematics. Four years of teaching mathematics proved so agreeable that Pierce adopted it as his profession.He returned to school at the University of Michigan to earn an M.S. in mathematics in 1930, and he became professor of mathematics at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. Pierce married Juanita George in 1933; they had one child.

In 1938 Pierce earned a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Michigan with a dissertation on statistical sampling. In that work and subsequent publications, he generalized previous sampling theory for grouped data to show that a single formula could be applied to both finite and infinite populations, and he made contributions to the theory of time series analysis as well. Pierce was appointed professor of mathematics at Atlanta University in 1938; the following year he served as project supervisor for the National Youth Administration in Georgia while carrying his normal teaching load at the university.

Pierce was the research director for a massive study of black businesses and opportunities from 1944 to 1946. This cooperative effort, sponsored by the National Urban League and Atlanta University, was supported by twenty black universities and colleges throughout the South. Pierce published the results of this study in Negro Business and Business Education (1947). In his introduction to a 1995 reprinting of this book, John Butler identified Pierce as a prescient leader who foresaw the need for cooperation between the educational and business communities in an effort to create jobs and wealth for the black community. The concepts were not new, nor were they unique to the black community; however, Pierce saw that segregation and white attitudes about blacks in the 1940s created an opportunity for blacks to advance their own interests through the formation of small business communities dedicated to serving black needs. Pierce linked blacks' opportunity to do so to their ability to acquire necessary theoretical and practical skills, thus connecting business education to the success of business enterprise. The principles outlined in Negro Business and Business Education remained applicable fifty years later, providing a model for similar analyses of immigrant communities. Butler argues strongly for the historical as well as the theoretical importance of Negro Business and Business Education and positions it in the continuum of leading information on that topic that had its origin around the turn of the century in the work of W. E. B. Du Bois.

Pierce was active in promoting solidarity among black scientists as a member of the National Institute of Science, serving as its president in 1947-1948. He remained active in numerous other professional and fraternal organizations throughout his life.

In 1948 Pierce returned to Texas as professor and chairman of the mathematics department at Texas State College for Negroes, now Texas Southern University (TSU). Pierce accepted added responsibility as chairman of the Division of Natural Physical Sciences in 1950 and was named dean of graduate studies in 1952. He continued teaching mathematics in addition to these duties until 1963.

Admission to graduate programs had been denied to blacks at southern universities until 1948, when Texas State College for Negroes was granted authority to confer the master's degree. Thus there was a pent-up demand for graduate degrees, particularly in education, and when Pierce took over as dean of graduate studies, he faced burgeoning enrollment and faculty overloads. He was particularly effective in recruiting senior professors from nearby universities to assist with this demand for graduate faculty. Master's degrees conferred by TSU rose dramatically, from ninety-five in 1948 to a peak of 304 in 1955. In the first ten years of Pierce's tenure as dean, TSU conferred a total of 2,287 master's degrees and 3,663 bachelor's degrees. In 1963, when the Manned Spacecraft Center was established near Houston, Pierce and B. A. Turner, TSU dean of technology, were released from teaching duties for eighteen months to recruit minority engineers for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Although his health was poor and he was planning retirement, in 1966 Pierce was appointed interim president, and later president, of TSU. The decade of the 1960s was a period of intense unrest among blacks and on college campuses, and the one academic year in which Pierce served as president was marred by that general turmoil. After retiring from TSU in 1967, Pierce served as a consultant to NASA. Two years after his retirement,however, he died in San Antonio, Texas.

As a hard-working and effective administrator, Pierce served his institutions and his community well over a long career. His greatest love, however, was working with students as a teacher. A patient, careful listener, he counseled and cajoled his students to work, as he did, to the limits of their abilities. Pierce was committed to the concept that blacks are no less able than any other race to learn mathematics, and it was in teaching them to be successful mathematicians that he found his greatest satisfaction. Although his assumption of the role of university president was the fulfillment of a life's dream, it came too late in life, and at a time of campus turmoil as well as diminished personal capacity, leaving him with less than complete satisfaction as he retired. Pierce will be remembered for his advocacy of black mathematical skills by the many students who benefited from his wise counsel, as well as by all who study the relationship between business success and business education in minority communities.

Mathematics Publications

Pierce, Joseph. On the Summation of Progressions Useful in Time Series Analysis, Journal of the American Statistical Association 39 (1944), 387-89.

Pierce, Joseph. Correction Formulas for Moments of a Grouped-Distribution of Discrete Variates, Journal of the American Statistical Association 38 (1943), 57-62.

Pierce, Joseph. A Study of a Universe of n Finite Populations with Application to Moment-Function Adjustments for Grouped Data, Annals of Mathematical Statistics 11, no. 3 (1940). 311-34.


Edmondson, Ralph A. and Pierce, Joseph A. , Elementary Mathematics and Applications (1934)

Edmondson, Ralph A. and Pierce, Joseph A. Introductory College Mathematics and Applications (1937).

Other publications:

Pierce, Joseph A. The Atlanta Negro: A Collection of Data on the Negro Population of Atlanta, Georgia (1940).

Reference: communications with his son Joseph A. Pierce,Jr <>, Vivian Ovelton Sammons, Blacks in Science and Medicine (1990).

More about Dr. Pierce can be read at

the Handbook of Texas Online: Texas Southern University

Cornelius V. Troup, Distinguished Negro Georgians (1962)

The Robert W. Woodruff Library, Special Collections Department, at Atlanta University Center has a collection of Pierce's papers related to the studies of black business; his other papers are in family hands.


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