Five African American Academics Have Been Elected Members of the American Philosophical Society

The American Philosophical Society was founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin. The society honors distinguished scientists, social scientists, humanities scholars, artists, and societal leaders with membership in the society. Members have included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Frost, Thomas Edison, Sandra Day O’Connor, Charles Darwin, Toni Morrison, and Albert Einstein.

This year the society granted membership to 36 individuals. Of these five are African Americans with ties to the academic world in the United States.

Gerald Lyn Early is the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters and a professor of African and African American studies and English at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Early started teaching at Washington University as an instructor in 1982. He is the author of One Nation Under a Groove: Motown and American Culture (Ecco Press, 1995).

Dr. Early is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in English literature. He holds a master’s degree in English literature from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Pennsylvania.

Danny O. Jacobs is the president and professor of surgery at the Oregon Health and Science University. He became the university’s fifth president in 2021. Earlier, he was executive vice president, provost, and dean of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston with tenure in surgery, public health and translational medicine.

Dr. Jacobs received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University, a medical degree from Washington University in St. Louis and completed residency and chief residency in general surgery and research fellowship training at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He also earned a master’s of public health degree from Harvard.

G. Gabrielle Starr was appointed the tenth president of Pomona College in Claremont, California, in 2016. Earlier, she dean of the College of Arts and Science at New York University. She joined the faculty at New York University in 2000.

Gabrielle Starr enrolled at Emory University at the age of 15. She earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree at Emory before going on to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard University. She is the author of Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience (MIT Press, 2013).

Bryan Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and the Aronson Family Professor of Criminal Justice University Professor at New York University School of Law. He has taight at the law school since 1998. He is the author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (One World, 2014).

Professor Stevenson holds a bachelor’s degree, a law degree, and a master of public policy degree, all from Harvard University.

Deborah Willis is a University Professor, chair of the department of photography & imaging, in the Tisch School of the Arts and director of the Institute for African American Affairs and the Center for Black Visual Culture at New York University. Among Dr. Willis’ published works are Posing Beauty: African American Images From the 1890s to the Present (W.W. Norton, 2009) and Black Venus 2010: They Called Her “Hottentot” (Temple University Press, 2010).

Dr. Willis is a graduate of the Philadelphia College of Art. She holds a master’s degree from the City University of New York, a master of fine arts degree from the Pratt Institute, and a Ph.D. from George Mason University in Virginia.

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