Home‎ > ‎

About Dr. Blackwell

Dr. David Blackwell, a mathematician and statistician, who made fundamental contributions to probability theory, statistics and game theory during the time that African Americans found it difficult, if not impossible, to even attend meetings of the American Mathematical Society, passed on July 8, 2010 at the age of 91. He was the first tenured black professor at the University of California, Berkeley and the first black elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

This conference in his memory is co-sponsored by the American Statistical Society, The University of California Berkeley and Howard University.


David Harold Blackwell was born on April 24, 1919 in Centralia, Illinois. He entered the University of Illinois in 1935 at the age of 16 and earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1938. He then obtained his Master’s degree in 1939 and his Ph.D in 1941, at the age of 22. 

After being awarded a one year Rosenwald Fellowship, established by the clothing magnate Julius Rosenwald to aid black scholars,

he attended the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. After completing the fellowship, Dr. Blackwell taught at a number of colleges, and finally arrived at Howard University in 1944. While at Howard, he attended a lecture by Meyer A. Girshick at the local chapter of the American Statistical Association. He became intensely interested in statistics and developed a lifelong friendship with Girshick. They later co-wrote the well-known classic “Theory of Games and Statistical Decisions”, in 1954. In that same year, he accepted a position in the Statistics Department at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1955 he was promoted to full professor. He was chairman of the department from 1957 to 1961 and assistant dean of the College of Letters and Science from 1964 to 1968. He retired in 1988.

His book entitled Basic Statistics, written in 1969, was one of the first textbooks on Bayesian statistics, which assess the uncertainty of future outcomes by incorporating new evidence as it arises, rather than relying on historical data. Professor Peter Bickel noted that “He had this great talent for making things appear simple, he liked elegance and simplicity. That is the ultimate best thing in mathematics, if you have an insight that something seemingly complicated is really simple, but simple after the fact.”

Additional Information

Other web sites

Dr. David Blackwell

 Howard University
 Army Research Office  National Science Foundation