Harvey Washington Banks

born: Harvey Washington Banks; place: Atlantic City, New Jersey; rasied in Washington, DC

died: 1979

pre-doctoral education: BS (1946) Physics Howard University; MS (1948) Physics Howard University

Doctoral Institution: Georgetown University (1961)
thesis: The First Spectrum of Titanium From 6000 to 3000 Angstroms

In 1961, Harvey Washington Banks became the first African American to earn the doctorate specifically in astronomy. His dissertation, at Georgetown University, was titled. Dr. Banks chose to teach and enjoyed a fulfilling career at Delaware State College and Howard University. His research interests included determination of orbits, celestial mechanics, high dispersion spectroscopy, and the geodetic determinations from the observations of solar eclipse and satellites.

Banks was born on February 7, 1923, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, but when he was still young his parents, Nettie Lee Jackson and Harvey Banks, Sr., moved to Washington, D.C. Later, Harvey attended Dunbar High School.

Banks remained in Washington, D.C., for his undergraduate work at Howard University, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in physics in 1946 and added a master of science degree, also in physics, in 1948. He stayed on at Howard as a research associate in physics until 1952, when he got a job in the private sector as an electronic engineer at National Electronics, Inc. Two years later he left the industry for a job in education, teaching physics and mathematics in the public school system of Washington, D.C. After two years of teaching Banks returned to academia, where he was a research assistant in astronomy at the Georgetown College Observatory while pursuing his doctorate at Georgetown University. In 1961 he became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in astronomy from Georgetown. His dissertation invovled the properties of light originating from distant sources, a concentration known as planetary spectroscopy.

Banks remained as a fellow at Georgetown for the year after he earned his doctorate. He then became a lecturer and research associate at Georgetown from 1963 through 1967. During this period he also taught at American University, also in Washington, D.C., and at Delaware State College. Then in 1967 Delaware State appointed him as a professor of astronomy and mathematics with a concurrent appointment as the director of the college's observatory. On September 1, 1969, Banks returned to his alma mater, Howard, as an associate professor of astronomy, and two years later the university added an appointment as an associate professor of physics, a position he maintained until his death.

Besides spectroscopy, Banks concerned himself with geodetic measurements, or determinations of distances between two points based on objects orbiting the Earth. He was thus interested in orbits and celestial mechanisms. In the 1970s Banks supervised the construction of an observatory outside Washington, D.C., as a member of the Beltsville Project. Banks also coordinated the Astronomy and Space Seminar for the National Science Teachers' Association. Banks died in 1979.

Banks married Ernestine Boykin, and together the couple had four children-Harvey III, Deborah, Dwann, and Darryle.

references: Fikes: From Banneker to Best: Some Stellar Careers In Astronomy and Astrophysics,


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