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David Blackwell

David Harold Blackwell
Born April 24, 1919 (1919-04-24) (age 90)
Centralia, Illinois,
United States
Nationality American
Fields Mathematician
Institutions University of California, Berkeley
Alma mater University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Doctoral advisor Joseph Leo Doob
Known for Rao–Blackwell theorem

David Harold Blackwell (born April 24, 1919) is Professor Emeritus of Statistics at the University of California, Berkeley, and is one of the eponyms of the Rao–Blackwell theorem. Born in Centralia, Illinois, he was the first African American inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, and the first black tenured faculty member at UC Berkeley.[1]



In 1935, aged 16, Blackwell entered the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where his interest in mathematics continued to grow. While at the Institute, Blackwell started to look for academic appointments. At age 22 he earned his first Ph.D. in mathematics.[2] He wrote letters of application to 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities to see if any post was available; he felt at the time that a black teacher would be limited to teaching only at black colleges.[3] Later after 1966, more than a dozen universities including Harvard and Yale conferred honorary Ph.D.s to Blackwell.

He sought a position at the University of California at Berkeley, however, and was interviewed by Jerzy Neyman for the post. Neyman strongly supported his appointment but others had opposed it. He was offered a post at Southern University at Baton Rouge which he held in 1942-43, followed by a year as an Instructor at Clark College in Atlanta. He moved to Howard University in 1946 to become an associate professor, and became head of the Mathematics Department the following year. He remained at Howard until 1954 when he taught at UC Berkeley as a visiting professor. He was hired as a professor of statistics in 1955.[4]

Blackwell was also a pioneer in textbook writing. Blackwell wrote one of the first Bayesian textbooks, his 1969 Basic Statistics.[5]

Blackwell was also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., Tau Chapter at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Honors - a few listed

Blackwell held several honors and memberships.


  1. ^ Cattau, Daniel (July 2009). "David Blackwell 'Superstar'". Illinois Alumni (University of Illinois Alumni Association): pp. 32–34. 
  2. ^ James H. Kessler, J. S. Kidd, Renee A. Kidd. Katherine A. Morin (1996), Distinguished African American Scientists of the 20th Century, Greenwood, ISBN 0897749553 
  3. ^ Donald J. Albers (2008), "David Blackwell", in Donald J. Albers, Gerald L. Alexanderson, Mathematical People: Profiles and Interviews (2 ed.), A K Peters, ISBN 1568813406 
  4. ^ Morris H. DeGroot (1986), "A conversation with David Blackwell", Statistical Science (1) 
  5. ^ Blackwell's Basic Statistics inspired the 1995 textbook Statistics: A Bayesian Approach by the biostatician Donald Berry.

External links

See also



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