There are many African Americans in the Mathematical Sciences who owe their preparation to "white" Americans. We take this opportunity to present a special appreciation to two such individuals, Donald Hill and Lee Lorch. This page is to honor Lee Lorch

An Appreciation to Lee Lorch


Lee Lorch was born in New York City in 1915 and graduated from Cornell University in 1935. He did his graduate work at the University of Cincinnati, obtaining his Ph.D. degree in 1941. After some time in mathematically related war work, he joined the US army and saw service in India and the Pacific between 1943 and 1946. His first academic position was at the City College of New York and his most recent is at York University (in Toronto Canada) from which he retired officially in 1985.

Lorch has been a tireless fighter for human rights and educational opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities. His long, courageous and continuing struggle for civil rights and for equal educational opportunities for minority groups was carried on at great personal cost including blacklisting which forced him to move to Canada in 1959 as a political refugee from the United States. For example, in the late forties, the Lorches attempted to end racial segregation in Stuyvesant Town, a large housing development in New York City. As a consequence, Lee was dismissed from the City College of New York, and subsequently was dismissed from his new position at Pennsylvania State University for the same reason, because he allowed a black family to occupy his Stuyvesant Town apartment.

When the United States Supreme Court ruled against school segregation in 1954, Lorch was chair of the mathematics department at Fisk University in Nashville. The Lorches then tried to enrol their daughter in the school nearest their home, a black school. Subsequently in 1955, he was summoned before the infamous House Committee on Un-American Activities, and subsequently dropped from the faculty by the predominantly white board of trustees at Fisk University, over the opposition of his mathematics colleagues and the leading black trustees.

Grace Lorch, who died in 1974, had long been active in supporting the rights of minority groups. A teacher in Boston, she served as President of the Boston Teachers Union and as a member of the Boston Central Labour Council. She was the first teacher to challenge a Boston school regulation that female teachers resign after marriage, although unsuccessfully.

Related to Lee Lorch's 5 year tenure on the faculty of Fisk University, the following is quoted from a talk by Lee Lorch, at the Special Session on the history of the American Mathematics Society, Cincinnati, January1994:

This was first made a matter of record in 1951 when I was teaching at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, a leading historically Black university. The Southeast regional meeting of the Mathemtics Association of America took place with Vanderbilt University as host. There was an official banquet at which the national President of the Mathemtics Association of America was the speaker. Using rather vulgar language, the chair of the local arrangements committee, a Vanderbilt professor, said that no tickets would be available to Negro members. I'm using the polite version of the word he employed.

On April 20, 1951, my department sent a letter to the Board of Governors of the Mathemtics Association of America and (well aware that the American Mathematics Society behaved no better) also to the Council of the American Mathematics Society, describing the situation and making certain suggestions. Then, with a covering note, I sent it to Science [see Science, August 10, 1951, pp. 161-162. and reprinted in Black Mathematicians and their Works] there being no American Mathematics Society or Mathemtical Association of America outlets for letters then...

While at Fisk University, Lorch inspired many young people to become mathematicians [mayes], among them are Etta Falconer, Gloria Hewitt, and Vivienne Malone Mayes respectively, the fifth and tenth African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. He also taught Charles Costley. [kenschaft1981].

Lorch and Etta Falconner in 1999

The Lorch's then moved to Little Rock, Arkansas where Lee taught at Philander Smith College. There, in Sept. 1957, the Arkansas National Guard, acting on direct orders from the state's governor, surrounded Little Rock Central High School in battle dress for the purpose of keeping out the nine black students whose enrolment in that school had just been ordered by the U.S. federal court.

One of these students, a 15-year-old girl, was inadvertently separated from the others, and was menaced by a mob. Grace Lorch extricated her from the mob and, despite the abuse showered on both of them, took her home. The funding of the small black college Philander Smith was then placed in jeopardy so Lorch was forced out. The persecution of the Lorch family continued. For comforting the frightened schoolgirl, Grace Lorch was summoned before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. Dynamite was placed under the Lorch family's garage door, and their daughter was beaten while at school.

Eventually, it became impossible for the family to obtain employment in the United States. They moved to Canada, and in 1959 Lorch joined the faculty of the University of Alberta, where he taught until he came to York in 1968.

Professor Lorch has made distinguished contributions to several subfields of classical analysis, including real analysis, summability theory, Fourier analysis, ordinary differential equations and special functions. His publications, spanning over fifty years, have illuminated several difficult problems and have generated international interest. His life-long devotion to scholarship has been recognized in a number of ways including Fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada, service on Grant Selection Committees for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, election to the Councils of the Canadian and American Mathematical Societies, and to the Council of the Royal Society of Canada, and invitations to lecture in several countries.

Professor Lorch moved to Canada in 1959 and spent nine years at the University of Alberta before moving to York University in 1968. He is well known for speaking out on behalf of mathematicians (and others) who are the victims of discrimination, aggression, occupation or economic blockade. He is a strong advocate of peaceful coexistence and of the role of scientists in this effort. Some understanding of his views on how mathematics can be a force for international understanding can be gained from his account of the 1966 International Congress of Mathematicians (Canad. Math. Bull. 10 (1967), 157-162; abridged version Science, 155 (1967), 1038-1039).

William Hawkins and Lorch in 2002

The primary reference for this webpage are notes taken at several addresses given by Lorch:

1. Banquet of the National Association of Mathematicians, January 1977.

2. Conference for African American Mathematicians at DIMACS, Rutgers University 1996.

Further information on Professor Lorch's many-sided activity can be gleaned form

his book reviews in Mathematical Intelligencer (10 (1988), 65-69, 11 (1989), 70-71 and 13 (1991), 74-78),

his letters in Notices Amer. Math. Soc. (20 (1973), p. 179, 25 (1978), p. 243, 28 (1981), p. 423, 30 (1983), p.402), 41 (1994), 571-572 and in Nature (281 (1979), p. 98; 301 (1983), p.9).

See also the letters Discriminatory or Compensatory in the May 1995 Notices of the AMS and Further on DMV Obituaries in the August 1995 Notices of the AMS.


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