Clarence and Harriet Stephens

Clarence F. Stephens receives the MAA Gung-Hu Award for the Pottsdam Miracle

Born: July 24, 1917; Birthplace: Gaffney, South Carolina (registered) [Place of birth, physically, Macon, Georgia]

BS (1938) Johnson C. Smith University; MS (1939) University of Michigan,

PhD Institution: University of Michigan, 1943 
thesis: Non-Linear Difference Equations Analytic in a Parameter ; Advisor: James Nyswander

Area of Research Interests: Nonlinear Difference Equations (his thesis area), Algebra (his passion), and Methods of Teaching

Clarence Francis Stephens is the ninth African American to receive a Ph.D. in Mathematics.

Clarence F. Stephens was the fifth of six children (3 girls and 3 boys) of Sam Stephens (a chef and railroad worker) and Jeannette Morehead Stephens, and was raised in Gaffney, South Carolina on July 24, 1917. As his mother died when he was two and father when he was eight, Clarence and the fve siblings went to live with their grandmother. He received his B.S. in Mathematics from Johnson C. Smith University (1938), and from the University of Michigan he earned an M.S. (1938) and a Ph.D. (1943) in Mathematics. At Michigan, he was fellow student with Luna Mishoe.

Dr. Stephens' method of teaching is recognized as one of the most profound in producing mathematics majors many of whom went on to earn the Ph.D. [only the methods of the late white racist mathematician R. L. Moore is more widely known].

From 1942 to 1946, Stephens served as a Teacher Specialist in the U.S. Navy. In 1946 he joined the faculty of Prairie View College as a professor of Mathematics. In 1947 he was appointed as Chairman of the Mathematics department at Morgan state College (now University).

From 1953-54, Dr. Stephens was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, working with such renowned members as Dr. Albert Einstein.

While at Morgan State, Dr. Stephens became appalled at what a poor job was being done in general to teach and inspire students to learn mathematics. He then completely changes his focus from being a researcher to achieving excellence, with desirable results, in teaching mathematics. He remained at Morgan State until 1962. From 1962-1969, Dr. Stephens served as Professor of Mathematics at the State University of New York Collge at Geneseo. From 1969 until his retirement in 1987, Stephens was Chairman of the Department of Mathematics at the State University of New York College at Potsdam. In 2000, Dr. Clarence Stephens was awarded an Honary Doctorate of Science by Lincoln University.

In retirement, Professor Stephens lives with his wife, Harriette (who was a University of Michigan Masters degree student in Mathematics when they met in 1942), on a farm in Conesus, New York. There two children are also involved in mathematics: H. Jeannette Stephens, has a Ph.D. in Mathematics Education from the University of Iowa of Iowa. Their son Clarence F. Stephens, Jr., has a Master's degree in Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Clarence F. Stephens discovered at a very early age that he could learn mathematics with very little help from teachers. This ability to read mathematics with understanding, and to enjoy it for its intrinsic beauty, accounts for much of his success in mathematics and its teaching. Stephen said (June 20, 1997), "More than fifty years ago I came to the conclusion that every college student who desired to learn mathematics could do so. I spent my entire professional life believing that this was the case." His teaching methods can be summarized as methods for developing and supporting these abilities in students. For more on the his method and its development read the web page The Morgan-Potsdam Model.


Dr. Clarence F. Stephens received the honorary Doctor of Science from Johnson C. Smith University in 1954. In 1962, Professor Stephens was honored by Governor Millard Tawes of Maryland for distinguished service to education. He received the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1976 (one of Dr. Stephens' ex-Morgan State students, Scott Williams, won this same award in 1981). On February 28, 1983, inducted and permanently placed in the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, as part of the "A Living History Project ­ Black Americans in the Sciences." In 1987 Governor Mario Cuomo of New York honored him for distinguished service to the State University of New York. He received the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Chicago State University (1990) and the State University of New York (1996).


Nonlinear difference equations analytic in a parameter, Trans. Amer. Math. Soc. 64 (1948), 268--282.

Nonlinear difference equations containing a parameter, Proc. Amer. Math. Soc. 1 (1950), 276--281.

Earl R. Barnes and Gloria Ford Gilmer gathered some of the material on this page.

references: communications with Dr. Stephens

SUMMA Clarence Stephens web site:


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