The Amistad Research Center is excited to announce the opening of the papers of physicist and Clark-Atlanta University professor Ronald E. Mickens. The processing of the collection is thanks to an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant to process African American Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) collections. Dr. Mickens’ papers highlight his academic career as a researcher, writer, and teacher in the fields of physics and mathematics. Mickens received his PhD in Theoretical Physics from Vanderbilt in 1968 and went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for a prestigious National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship. Following his fellowship, Mickens taught physics at Fisk for several years before going to Clark Atlanta University (then Atlanta University) in 1982. In 1985, Mickens became the Distinguished Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Physics.
A prolific writer, Mickens wrote over 250 academic journal articles and eight textbooks and has contributed to many edited scientific volumes. In addition, Dr. Mickens is active in research and writing about early African American scientists, most notably a history entitled The African American Presence in Physics and the biography, Edward Bouchet: The First African American Doctorate. He traveled around the world and the United States for conferences and has served as a guest lecturer at universities all over the country. Dr. Mickens serves on the editorial boards of several research journals and is an active participant in numerous professional societies including the American Mathematical Society, the American Physical Society (for which he is an elected Fellow), and the National Association of Mathematicians (NAMI). He previously served as the historian of the National Society of Black Physicists and was one of the founders of the National Conference of Black Physics Students. Mickens married Maria Kelker in 1977 and they have two children, James and Lea.
Dr. Mickens completed his studies during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the South, at a time when academic opportunities for African Americans, especially in STEM fields, were challenging. Mickens’ correspondence, university, and grant materials show that, even once he had a tenure track position at Clark Atlanta, funding at HBCUs was so precarious that it was necessary for him to continually work to procure funding for his research. Mickens’ correspondence also reflects his collaborations with scientists, mathematicians, and students from around the world, as he shared calculations and research problems with contemporaries from Africa, Europe, Asia, and South America.
The collection also shows Mickens’ vast research interests, including non-linear oscillations, difference equations, the history of African Americans in science, and minority STEM education. The collection includes Mickens’ article and book manuscripts, as well as correspondence and materials showing his constant work to advance opportunities for African American students in math and science. For years Mickens kept a running directory of African American PhDs in the U.S. and academic institutions often contacted him for help finding black candidates to fill university positions.
The collection also includes photographs and ephemeral materials showing Mickens’ educational and professional activities, including his articles in the Fisk Forum newspaper and newsletters from professional organizations like NAMI and the American Physical Society.
Post by Jessica Perkins Smith