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There's Now a National Historic Chemical Landmark Dedicated to the First African American to Earn a Ph.D. in Chemistry

There's Now a National Historic Chemical Landmark Dedicated to the First African American to Earn a Ph.D. in Chemistry



 Photo via: University of Illinois

Add this to your list of Black History Month wins. Earlier this month, the American Chemical Society (ACS) honored Saint Elmo Brady, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States, with a National Historic Chemical Landmark. He received a Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Illinois in 1916 for work done at the school’s Noyes Laboratory. Now with this National Historic Chemical Landmark, there will be a bronze plaque on display at its entrance.

Born on December 22, 1884 in Louisville, Kentucky, it’s important to note that Brady started off his career at historically Black colleges and universities. Inspired by Thomas W. Talley, a pioneering chemistry professor at Fisk University he received his Bachelor's Degree from Fisk University in 1908 at the age of 24. From Fisk, Brady went on to teach at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In 1912, he was offered a scholarship to Illinois to pursue his graduate degree.

While at the University of Illinois he also became the first African American admitted to the University’s chemistry honor society, Phi Lambda Upsilon, and also became one of the first to be inducted into Sigma Xi, the science honorary. Brady made it a point to give back once he completed his degree, returning to teach at Tuskegee Institute and Fisk University, and also taught at Howard University and Tougaloo College.

In attendance at the ceremony, Dr. Brady’s family members attending were Carol Brady Fonvielle, Brady’s granddaughter; W. Clay Fonvielle, Brady’s great-grandson; Merle M. Watts, sister-in-law to Dr. Brady’s son; and friend of the family Margie A. Utley. Representatives and students from the HBCU’s that he touched, also paid their respects.

Photo: Relatives of Dr. Brady from left to right: Carol Brady Fonvielle, Merle M. Watts & W. Clay Fonvielle

In February 2016, he was also honored by Congressman Bill Foster on the floor of the House of Representatives who shared this reminder about honoring his contributions beyond February: “Dr. Brady is just one of the many African American pioneering scientists who should be lifted up as the role models they are, not just during Black History Month, but all year round." 

During the designation ceremony this year on February 5, ACS Immediate Past President Peter K. Dorhout said, "This landmark designation recognizes the outstanding accomplishments and leadership impact that Dr. Brady has had on the chemical profession. "I am proud to be an alumnus of the university that was part of his legacy — dreaming, designing and executing the creation of four outstanding and impactful chemistry programs that have each worked to ensure access to higher education and the chemical professions for so many young African-American men and women over the last century."