Sunday, February 20, 2011

Black History Month -- celebrate Haynes and Hughes

Living on the border of Washington DC I am exposed to items of local history for our nation's capital.  One such item involves the "discovery" of Langston Hughes (1902-1967) by poet Vachel Lindsay (1879 - 1931) at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, a leading conference hotel in the city.   A second story is a mathematical one.  Martha Euphnemia Lofton Haynes (1890-1980), a fourth-generation Washingtonian, was the first black woman to earn a PhD in mathematics -- conferred in 1943 by Catholic University. 
      Dr. Haynes taught in the public schools of Washington for 47 years and in 1960 she was appointed to the DC Public School Board, a post she held until 1968, serving as its first female president during 1966 - 67. During those turbulent years as DC worked towards school desegregation,  Haynes’s personal commitment --  to integration and ending the practice of “tracking” within District schools -- was vital  to that process.
    Hughes spent a year in DC and late in 1925 was working at the Marriott on a day when poet and critic Vachel Lindsay was in town and scheduled for a dinner reading at the hotel.  Busboy Hughes, as the legend goes, slipped into the dining room before the event and left three poems near the famous Lindsay's plate. The happy outcome was that, the following morning, Lindsay read the poetry to an audience of reporters and announced he had discovered a busboy poet. 
     Follow these links to find  poems to celebrate Black History Month and additional information about black mathematicians.  Here, next, are Vachel Lindsay's poem, "Euclid" and Langston Hughes' "Addition."

     Euclid       by Vachel Lindsay

     Old Euclid drew a circle
     On a sand-beach long ago.
     He bounded and enclosed it
     With angles thus and so.
     His set of solemn greybeards
     Nodded and argued much
     Of arc and of circumference,
     Diameter and such.
     A silent child stood by them
     From morning until noon
     Because they drew such charming
     Round pictures of the moon.

"Euclid" is Part 1 of  "Fairy Tales for Children" from Lindsay's Congo and Other Poems. Hughes' little poem "Addition" is found in Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics (A K Peters, 2008).

     Addition     by Langston Hughes

     7 x 7 + love =
     An amount
     Infinitely above:
     7 x 7 − love.

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