Tribute to Professor David Blackwell

Tribute to Professor David Blackwell

In the UK, some mathematical organisations lead by the excellent  Chalkdust have declared October as Black Mathematician Month!

This is what Professor Fraser said

” I am very proud to say that I met the great David Blackwell while I was a Lecturer at Warwick. – see some other photos of Blackwell, at a colleague’s funeral, here: Professor Clive FraserI suggested him for an Honorary Degree, which he was awarded, and I was privileged to talk to him when he came over to receive it. By that time, I already knew the now well-known story of the racism that he had encountered on route to being appointed a Professor of Statistics at University of Berkeley, which he confirmed. I first encountered that story when I read the biography of Jerzy Neyman, who founded the Berkeley Statistics Department, when I visited CORE and IRES, Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve, in 1984-85.
There is another story relating to David Blackwell that I have that, I believe, reflects the importance of people knowing their own history. I first came across the eponymous Rao-Blackwell Theorem while studying for an MSc in Economics and Econometrics at Southampton in 1975-6. I had a fellow student, an Irish man (also now a Professor of Economics), who assured me that Blackwell was Irish! I never bothered to check this (why should I have bothered to check a fellow student’s word about something as inconsequential as someone’s nationality, or so I thought then?). So, for years, I happily went about in the belief that Blackwell was indeed Irish and assured others of this. I must have provided much amusement to those who knew otherwise, until I was finally disabused of my misinformation at CORE. There are many lessons in this story that others can, indubitably, fill in the details of.”

Apart from being slightly jealous, I am extremely proud that a member of my family had cross paths with one of the greatest Black mathematicians ever.



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