Dr. Samuel P. Massie

Photo of Dr. Massie




Few men or women of any race have attained the respect, admiration, and degree of excellence achieved by Dr. Samuel P. Massie. Because Dr. Massie's life and work pave the way for African-Americans and other minorities in education and in the sciences, DOE chose to name its Chairs of Excellence in the environmental sciences in his honor.

Dr. Samuel P. Massie, Jr. is one of the most distinguished organic chemists and chemistry educators in the United States. In his long career as an educator, Massie has taught at several historically black colleges, including Fisk University. In 1966 he became the first African-American professor at the prestigious Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where he taught for more than 25 years. Massie also served as chair of the chemistry department from 1977 to 1981, becoming the academy's first black department chair.

Life and Career

Samuel Proctor Massie, Jr. was born on July 3, 1919 in Little Rock, Arkansas. His parents had met at Shorter College in North Little Rock, where they were both studying to become schoolteachers. Massie's father later became a high school and junior college biology instructor in Little Rock, while his mother taught in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Keo, Arkansas, about 18 miles away. As was fairly common in those days, Massie accompanied his mother to her teaching job, where he studied along with the older children.

An Impressive Academic Career

Massie intellectual abilities were evident extremely early. He learned to read at the astonishingly early age of two, and--partly because he had already been in school for years--he was at the third-grade level when he officially began first grade. During his elementary and secondary schooling, Massie skipped grade after grade, until he found himself enrolled at Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School, where his father taught, at the age of ten. Massie completed his high school education in 1932, when he was just 13 years old.

Too young to go to college, Massie worked in a grocery store for a year after his high school graduation. In 1934, he enrolled in Dunbar Junior College in Little Rock, where he studied mathematics and the liberal arts. During his second year at the college, Massie's classmates elected him student body president.

After earning an associate's degree, Massie entered the all-black Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) in 1936. Here he majored in chemistry and minored in mathematics and French. In addition to taking extra classes each term, Massie joined the debate team and edited the college yearbook. In 1938 at the age of 18, he graduated with a B.S. in chemistry with highest honors.

With his impressive academic record, Massie had no difficulty winning a scholarship to continue his studies at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He earned his master's degree in chemistry in 1940. Later that year, Massie returned to Arkansas AMN College, where he took a position as associate professor of mathematics and physics, and acting head of the math and physics department.

In 1941 Massie left Arkansas to pursue his doctorate at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. However, when Massie arrived at Iowa State, he discovered that he had not left racial barriers behind in the South. He was not allowed to live on campus, and he was passed over for a teaching assistantship in the chemistry department. "I was disappointed that I couldn't have a fellowship at Iowa State," Massie told Visions, the university's alumni magazine, adding simply, "I needed the money."

The Manhattan Project

Meanwhile, World War II had begun. Because Massie was enrolled in higher education, he had a draft deferment; but before he could complete his doctoral studies, the draft board in Arkansas revoked it. Forced to drop out of graduate school temporarily, Massie took a position as a research associate at Iowa State from 1943 to 1946. Under the supervision of chemistry professor Henry Gilman, Massie worked on a special research team that was part of the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort to develop an atomic bomb.

When the war was over, Massie returned to working on his dissertation, "High-Molecular Weight Compounds of Nitrogen and Sulfur as Therapeutic Agents." He earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Iowa State in 1946.

Massie then accepted a position as a chemistry instructor at his alma mater, Fisk University. At Fisk, he met student Gloria Thompkins, who was president of the class of 1947. The couple married and eventually had three sons. Gloria became a psychology professor, and society editor for Jet magazine.

After just a year at Fisk, Massie was offered a job as professor of chemistry and chair of the chemistry department at Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma. Massie taught there until 1953. In his final year, he was elected president of the Oklahoma Academy of Science--a remarkable achievement for an African American in the South at the time.

In 1953 Massie returned once again to Fisk, where he served as professor of chemistry and chair of the chemistry department. He also formed a research team to study phenothiazine, a chemical that he had begun researching as a graduate student. Soon afterward, phenothiazine became a subject of great interest, as research teams around the world discovered its uses in treating psychiatric disorders and in cancer therapy. Massie's article, "The Chemistry of Phenothiazine," published in 1954, became an important resource for these researchers, and is still regarded as a classic and led to the development of the anti-psychotic drug Thorazine.

Massie accepted a position at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Washington, D.C. in 1960. As an associate program director for special projects in science education, he helped colleges and universities improve their laboratories and libraries. In 1961, while still at the NSF, Massie took a part-time position as the chair of pharmaceutical chemistry at Howard University, also in Washington, D.C. That year, the Manufacturing Chemists Association named Massie one of the six best college-level chemistry teachers in the country.

First Black Professor at Naval Academy

In 1963 Massie became president of North Carolina College at Durham (now North Carolina Central University). During this time, Massie caught the attention of President Lyndon Johnson. In 1966, Johnson appointed him to a chemistry professorship at the prestigious United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Massie became the first black professor at the nearly all-white institution.

Even at this stage in his career, however, Massie encountered open racism: the community of Annapolis was not ready to accept Massie and his family. After a long struggle to find a suitable place to live, the family eventually settled in a neighborhood where only a few years earlier, a sign had warned against blacks entering the area after sunset. A few years later, the Massies settled in the nearby town of Laurel, Maryland.

Massie also had to contend with his students, many of whom had never been taught by an African American before. "When I arrived at the Academy, for the first time in many of these students' lives, the opinion of a black person was important to them," he told Visions. Massie's superlative teaching ability overcame any resistance, however, and he soon became one of the academy's most popular teachers. In 1977 Massie was appointed chair of the department of chemistry at the Naval Academy, a position he held until 1981. He also co-founded the academy's black studies program.

During his years at the academy, much of Massie's research focused on human health in a military context. He developed foaming agents that dispersed poisonous gases, protecting soldiers from their deadly effects. He researched drugs to treat infections such as malaria, meningitis, and herpes. In 1985, Massie and his colleagues were awarded a patent for an antibiotic to treat gonorrhea.

Massie also made significant contributions in the discipline of environmental science. He conducted a series of studies on chemicals that are commonly used on naval ships--such as detergents and fire retardants--seeking to discover whether they harm marine life. He also investigated whether trace amounts of toxic metals are released into the water when rust and corrosion are cleaned off a ship.

In addition to his teaching and his research, Massie found time to serve as a member of the Maryland State Board of Community Colleges. In his 21 years on the board--ten as chair--Massie fought for more investment in science education. In 1989 the board established a Massie Science Prize in his honor, to be awarded to an outstanding science student at a Maryland community college.

In 1990 Massie received a faculty achievement award from the Naval Academy. Three years later, he became the second civilian and the first African American to become an honorary member of the National Naval Officers Association. The following year, Massie retired from the Naval Academy, which named him a professor emeritus.

Bingwa Software Company

Unable to give up work entirely, Massie accepted a position as vice president for education at the Bingwa Software Company, a company that produces educational software using multicultural models. A typical product, the Mathematical Heritage Series for first- and second-graders, combines math concepts with the biographies of real-life role models. Massie himself appears in the segment on ordering numbers.

Massie has lectured at numerous colleges and universities, including Swarthmore College, Dillard University, Virginia State University, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, St. Andrew's Presbyterian College, Ripon College, and the University of Northern Colorado. He has published widely in scientific journals, and delivered papers at conferences in Zurich, Switzerland; Tokyo, Japan; Mexico City, Mexico; and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Massie has also received countless awards throughout his career. One memorable award was an honorary doctorate from the University of Arkansas, which once had denied him admission on the basis of race. Other honorary degrees came from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, the University of Maryland, Bowie State University in Maryland and Wooster College in Ohio. In 1981 Iowa State University honored him with the Distinguished Achievement Citation, the university's highest alumni award.

In 1994 information about Massie's life and career was placed on permanent display in the "Science in American Life" exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute. The following year, his portrait was hung in the National Academy of Science gallery. In 1998 Chemical and Engineering News named Massie one of the world's 75 most distinguished chemists, a list that also included Marie Curie and Linus Pauling; Massie was among just 32 living scientists and three African Americans on the prestigious list.

Career Summary

Organic chemist and chemistry professor, Arkansas AMN College, associate professor of mathematics and physics, acting head of math and physics department, 1940-41; Iowa State University, research associate, 1943-46; Fisk University, chemistry instructor, 1946-47; Langston University, chemistry professor, chemistry department chairman, 1947-53; Fisk University, chemistry professor, chemistry department chairman, 1953-60; National Science Foundation, program director, 1960-63; Howard University, professor, pharmaceutical chemistry chair, 1961-63; North Carolina College at Durham, president, 1963-66; U.S. Naval Academy, chemistry professor, 1966-94, chemistry chair, 1977-81; Bingwa Software Company, vice president for education, 1994-2005.

Awards and Recognition



Dr. Massie has received countless honors and awards. In 1961 the MCA named him one of the six best College Chemistry Professors in the United States. He is listed in American Men of Science, and Who's Who in America . In 1976 the Anne Arundel County (MD) Chapter of the NAACP gave him its Freedom Funds Award, and in July 1976 Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity presented Dr. Massie with its highest award: The Laurel Wreath.

In 1980 the National Organization of Black Professional Chemists and Chemical Engineers named him as Outstanding Professor. In 1981 his alma mater, Iowa State University, awarded him its highest alumni honor: The Distinguished Achievement Citation. Dillard University accorded him the same honor in 1981. On April 16, 1987, the same organization gave him the Henry A. Hill Award for his long and distinguished service to the field of chemistry. In September 1988 The White House Initiative honored Dr. Massie with its first Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to science, technology, and community services.

In September 1989, as a graduate of two HBCU institutions, he was one of eight black Americans inducted in the National Black College Alumni Hall Of Fame in the area of Science. President Henry Ponder of Fisk University, one of his students from Langston University (Oklahoma), presented the award. That same month the Maryland Community College system recognized him for 21 years of leadership with the Maryland State Board of Community Colleges. A Massie Science Prize was established in his honor.

In November 1989 he was honored by Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity for 50 years of membership and leadership. He was first initiated into the Fisk Chapter (Alpha Delta) in 1939. In October 1990 the U.S. Naval Academy presented him with the prestigious Faculty Achievement Award for his service as teacher, researcher, and promoter of the Academy. In November 1994 Massie received the 1994 James Flack Norris Award of the Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society for distinguished achievement in teaching chemistry.

On March 1, 1995, Dr. Massie's portrait was hung in the National Academy of Science gallery. In 1997, he was named to the Chemical & Engineering News Top 75 Distinguished Contributors to the Chemical Enterprise" during the 75 years of C&EN's existence.


In January 1990 Dr. Massie was singularly featured by the Navy magazine All Hands, a publication distributed to all Navy personnel, in its "Spotlight On Excellence" for his lifetime service in "Training Young Minds." During that month, The Magazine for Young Black Professionals also ran a feature on Dr. Massie.

The summer 1990 issue of the Journal of the National Technical Association featured as its lead article for the section "Extending the Black Legacy through Science and Technology," a historical review by Professor Massie titled "And the Beat Goes On."

The fall 1960 issue of College Digest, sent to prospective college students, featured an article by Professor Massie on "Science and Mathematics in the Twenty-First Century."

In April 1994 at the opening of the "Science in American Life" exhibit at the National Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institute), sponsored by the American Chemical Society, aspects of his life and career were placed on permanent exhibit.

Honorary Doctorates

In 1970 the University of Arkansas (which refused his admission application in the thirties due to the segregation policies of that University) awarded him an honorary doctorate (LL.D.). In 1985 Lehigh University awarded him a D.Sc. and the University of Maryland a D. Public Service.

In June 1990 Bowie State University (MD) awarded him the honorary degree (D.H.L.) Doctor of Humane Letters for his contributions to science, technology, education, and community service. In May 1992 The College of Wooster (Ohio) awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) degree for his contributions to science, education, and community service.

Endowments and Chairs

In December 1992, the National Naval Officer's Association and the U.S. Naval Academy's African-American Alumni established the Samuel P. Massie Educational Endowment Fund to help pay college tuition costs for women, minority, and low-income residents of Anne Arundel County (Maryland).

In September 1994 the US Department of Energy and the Advancing Minorities' Interest in Engineering AMIE), a coalition of FORTUNE companies and nine historically black colleges and universities combined to establish the DOE Samuel P. Massie Chairs of Excellence Professorship in Environmental Disciplines in Schools of Engineering at the nine HBCUs. Dr. Massie pursued an interest in environmental studies during his career at the Naval Academy while spending summers at the David Taylor Research Base Research facilities near Annapolis working in such diverse areas as: (a) analyses of waters deposited by ships in dock at marine facilities; (b) studies of chemicals used to prevent and/or remove barnacles from ships; (c) development of chemicals to be used as protective foams against nerve gases lobbed by missiles onto the decks of aircraft and battleships; (d) studies of detergents used aboard ships; (e) analyses of toxic metals like copper, tin, and lead in parts per billion; and (f) fire-prevention studies.

Professorship Created in His Honor

However, of all his honors and awards, Massie was proudest of the environmental engineering professorship that the Department of Energy established in his name. In 1994 the Dr. Samuel P. Massie Chair of Excellence, worth $14.7 million, was awarded to ten universities--nine historically black colleges, and one that serves primarily Hispanic students. The grants will help to support groundbreaking environmental research and to produce top-level graduates.

Selected Awards: Named one of the six best college-level chemistry teachers, Manufacturing Chemists Association, 1961; Distinguished Achievement Citation, Iowa State University, 1981; Faculty achievement award, Naval Academy, 1990; honorary member, National Naval Officers Association, 1993; U.S. Naval Academy, professor emeritus, 1994; named one of the world's 75 most distinguished chemists, Chemical and Engineering News, 1998; honorary doctorates from the University of Arkansas, Lehigh University, University of Maryland, Bowie State University, and Wooster College.

Education and Memberships


Dr. Samuel P. Massie is a native of North Little Rock, Arkansas, where both his parents were schoolteachers. At the age of six he read at a third-grade level and by the time he was 13 he graduated from high school. Dr. Massie later attended Dunbar Jr. College (Little Rock, Arkansas) and, at the age of 18, received a BS degree (summa cum laude) from A.M.N. College of Arkansas (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) with a major in Chemistry. He was awarded the MA degree in Chemistry from Fisk University in Nashville, and the Ph.D. degree in Organic Chemistry from Iowa State University.


·         President, Oklahoma Academy of Science, 1953;

·         National President, Beta Kappa Chi Scientific Honorary Society, 1958-60;

·         Board of Trustees, Wooster College, 1966-87;

·         State Board for Community Colleges, 1968-;

·         Chairman, Governor's Science Advisory Council, Maryland for 10 years;

·         Board of Directors, Bethune-DuBois Company.

·         Member of the Board of Visitors of Towson State University in Maryland.

·         U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association Honorary Membership in the Alumni 1993

Lectures, Papers, and Patents

Dr. Massie has lectured widely at numerous colleges and universities including a number of the Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). He served as a Visiting Scientist in Chemistry for the American Chemical Society, a Piedmont Lecturer in North Carolina, a Julian Lecturer at North Carolina A.&T. University, and a Dreyfuss Lecturer for the United Negro College Fund.

Dr. Massie was the United Negro College Fund Distinguished Professor at Dillard University, an Eminent Scholar at Virginia State University, and from 1986-88 he was a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. He has been Guest Lecturer at St. Andrew's Presbyterian College, Ripon College, and the University of Northern Colorado. In 1956, he was Sigma Xi Lecturer at Swarthmore College.

He has given papers in chemistry before international conferences in Zurich, Switzerland; Tokyo, Japan; Mexico City, Mexico; and Sao Paulo, Brazil. He has published widely in refereed scientific journals, and his Chemical Reviews article, "The Chemistry of Phenothiazine," published in 1954, is considered a classic. In 1985, along with two midshipmen students and colleagues from the Walter Reed Army Institute, he was awarded a patent for Antibacterial Agents especially effective as anti-gonorrheal agents.

Inspirational Speaking

In addition to his careers as a chemist and an educator, Massie was also a well-regarded inspirational speaker. He has frequently spoken to youth groups, encouraging young people--especially minorities--to consider pursuing careers in science and technology. In a speech given to the Economic Club of Detroit and archived on the web site for the Massie Chairs of Excellence Massie said that the “ten most important two-letter words in the English language” are “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

On January 16, 1990, Dr. Massie delivered the Martin Luther King, Jr, address before the prestigious Economic Club of Detroit on “Where Do We Go From Here?”. This speech was beamed via cable TV to 400,000 homes in the Detroit area. Over 4,000 copies of the speech were printed for distribution.

In April 1990 Dr. Massie was the first keynote luncheon speaker at the 1990 National Convention of the National Organization of Black Professional Chemists and Chemical Engineers. His speech, a challenge to young black scientists, was titled “Quo Vadis?”

Dr. Massie continued to speak before youth groups (such as Tech-Net in Atlanta in October, 1994, and the Meyerhoff students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County) inspiring them to pursue careers in science and technology. In January 1995 he gave the Martin Luther King, Jr., Anniversary speech aboard the flagship of the Second Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk. The ship was captained by Captain Gene Kendall, USN, who, at age 13, was inspired by Professor Massie to consider a career in science, especially engineering.


Dr. Massie was married. His wife  Gloria recently retired from teaching Psychology at Bowie State University. She was also Society Editor for JET magazine. They have three sons, all of whom finished law school.

Dr. Massie's expressed desire is to be known “as a teacher who cared about his students,” and “one who made a difference in their lives.”

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