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Johnny Houston

Mathematician, education administrator, and research director Johnny L. Houston was born on November 19, 1941 in Sandersville, Georgia to parents Bobby Lee Harris and Catherine Houston Vinson. After graduating from Ballard Hudson High School in Macon, Georgia, Houston attended Morehouse College and graduated in 1964 with his B.A. degree in mathematics. Houston received his M.S. degree in mathematics from Atlanta University (Clark Atlanta University) in 1966 and then travelled to Paris, France to study at the Universite de Strasbourg. In 1974, Houston graduated with his Ph.D. degree in mathematics from Purdue University.

In 1975, Houston was appointed as the chair of the Atlanta University Math and Computer Science Department. During a leave period, he served as the Calloway Professor of Computer Science at Fort Valley State University. In 1984, Houston became the vice chancellor of academic affairs and professor of math and computer science at Elizabeth City State University (ECSU). He was named senior research professor in the ECSU Department of Mathematics and Computer Science in 1988. Throughout his career, Houston has held several positions as a specialist in mathematics and computer science, including serving as a member National Institute of Health’s MARC Committee from 1980to 1986, a member of the Board of Governors of the Mathematical Association of America from 1992 to 1995, and as a member of the Human Resource Advisory Group for the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute from1993 to1998. In 1996, Houston established the Computational Science and Scientific Visualization (CSSV) Center at ECSU; and, in 2002, he established the African Studies (TLMP) at ECSU. Houston served as the director of both programs until 2008. Houston is a co-founder of the National Association of Mathematicians, Inc. (NAM), and served as NAM’s executive secretary from 1975 until 2000. Houston published The History of NAM, the First 30 Years; 1969-1999 in 2002 and is the author of more than forty books and articles on the science, mathematics, and education

Houston has received several awards and honors, including the University Of North Carolina Board Of Governors Teaching Excellence Award in 1996, NAM’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999, and the Purdue University BCC Pioneer Award in 2009. Houston has been included American Men and Women of Science, Who’s Who Among Black Americans, Who’s Who in America, and the World Directory of Mathematicians. In 2010, Houston was named professor emeritus at Elizabeth City State University after twenty-six years of service.

Houston is married to Virginia Lawrence. They have two daughters: Mave Talibra and Kaiulani Michelle.

Mathematician, education administrator, and research director Johnny L. Houston was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 25, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.046

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/25/2013

Last Name

Houston

Maker Category
Middle Name

L.

Occupation
Schools

Universite de Strasbourg

University of Georgia

Clark Atlanta University

Morehouse College

Ballard Hudson High School

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Day,s Evenings, and Weekends by pre-arrangment

First Name

Johnny

Birth City, State, Country

Sandersville

HM ID

HOU03

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Any

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - Expenses plus any expression of appreciation

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

State

Georgia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Mountains, Water

Favorite Quote

Life Has Been Very Kind To Me And I Thank God For It.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

North Carolina

Birth Date

11/19/1941

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Charlotte

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Vegetables

Short Description

Mathematician Johnny Houston (1941 - ) was the founder of the Computational Science and Scientific Visualization Center and the African Studies Program (TLMP) at Elizabeth City State University, and co-founder of the National Association of Mathematicians, Inc. (NAM).

Employment

Elizabeth City State University

Fort Valley State University

Atlanta University

Savannah State University

Stillman College

E.E. Smith High School

Favorite Color

Gray

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Johnny Houston's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Johnny Houston lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Johnny Houston talks about his mother and his grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Johnny Houston talks about growing up in the deep South

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Johnny Houston talks about his aunts' perception of Elijah Muhammad

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Johnny Houston talks about his mother's education and career

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Johnny Houston talks about his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Johnny Houston talks about his father's education

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Johnny Houston talks about his relationship with his father

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Johnny Houston talks about how his parents met and his father's career in the funeral business

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Johnny Houston talks about his grandmother's influence on him

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Johnny Houston talks about his grandmother, her influence in the community, and her employment

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Johnny Houston describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Johnny Houston talks about his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Johnny Houston talks about the black communities in Sandersville, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Johnny Houston talks about his interest in how things work and describes living in poverty during his early childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Johnny Houston talks about his experience in elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Johnny Houston talks about his passion for learning and his elementary teachers' perceptions of him

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Johnny Houston talks about his uncle's service in World War II and the racial tensions of growing up in the South

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Johnny Houston talks about his involvement in Springfield Baptist Church while growing up

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Johnny Houston talks about the impact of his grandmother's death

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Johnny Houston talks about his childhood jobs

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Johnny Houston talks about his sister's death, his family's move to Macon, Georgia, and living in the projects

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Johnny Houston talks about the demographics of the projects of Macon, Georgia, and his education

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Johnny Houston talks about his junior high school science teacher

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Johnny Houston talks about his high school English teachers and the importance of communication skills

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Johnny Houston talks about his science and math instruction in high school

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Johnny Houston talks about his high school math teacher and his math instruction

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Johnny Houston talks about his extracurricular activities and working during high school

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Johnny Houston talks about graduating from high school, his decision to attend Morehouse College, and his financial hardships there

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Johnny Houston talks about his financial hardships and his quest for work in Hot Springs, Virginia

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Johnny Houston talks about his experience working at The Homestead luxury resort in Hot Springs, Virginia

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Johnny Houston talks about his favorite vacation destination, Hot Springs, Virginia

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Johnny Houston talks about his interest in math and science and his chemistry professor at Morehouse College, Henry C. McBay

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Johnny Houston talks about his professors, Claude B. Dansby and Henry C. McBay, at Morehouse College

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Johnny Houston talks about his professors at Morehouse College

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Johnny Houston talks about Benjamin Mays - part one

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Johnny Houston talks about Benjamin Mays - part two

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Johnny Houston talks about Shirley McBay

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Johnny Houston talks about his memories of the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Johnny Houston talks about graduating from Morehouse College and his experience teaching high school mathematics in Fayetteville, North Carolina

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Johnny Houston talks about the professors at Atlanta University Complex, including Abdulalim Shabazz

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Johnny Houston talks about his thesis advisor, Lloyd Williams, and the area of topology in mathematics

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Johnny Houston talks about his decision to study at the University of Strasbourg in France

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Johnny Houston talks about learning French and his experience in France

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Johnny Houston talks about learning French and his travels within the United States

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Johnny Houston talks about his studies and his experience at the University of Strasbourg

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Johnny Houston talks about his travels through Europe

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Johnny Houston talks about his decision to teach at Stillman College and his experience there

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Johnny Houston describes his first exposure to computers, when he attended an IBM workshop to learn to program in Fortran

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Johnny Houston talks about his memories of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his assassination in 1968

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Johnny Houston describes his experience at the Summer Institute for College Teachers of Math at the University of Georgia

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Johnny Houston describes his decision to pursue his Ph.D. degree at Purdue University, and talks about other African Americans who studied there

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Johnny Houston talks about his wife, Virginia Lawrence, whom he married in 1969

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Johnny Houston talks about the establishment of the National Association of Mathematicians (NAM) in 1969, and the reasons for its conception

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Johnny Houston describes the objectives of the National Association of Mathematicians (NAM), and the reasons for its conception

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Johnny Houston talks about his doctoral advisor, Eugene Schenkman, and his experience as a doctoral student at Purdue University - part one

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Johnny Houston talks about his doctoral advisor, Eugene Schenkman, and his experience as a doctoral student at Purdue University - part one

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Johnny Houston describes his doctoral dissertation, titled, 'On the Theory of Fitting Classes in Certain Locally Finite Groups'

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Johnny Houston discusses the impact of his doctoral dissertation, titled 'On the Theory of Fitting Classes in Certain Locally Finite Groups'

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Johnny Houston talks about how pure mathematics is the forerunner of applied mathematics

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Johnny Houston talks about his graduation from Purdue University

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Johnny Houston talks about teaching mathematics at the Krannert School of Industrial Management at Purdue University

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Johnny Houston describes himself as a computational scientist

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Johnny Houston talks about his decision to become the head of the mathematics department at Atlanta University

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Johnny Houston talks about becoming the National Secretary of the National Association of Mathematicians (NAM) in 1975

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Johnny Houston talks about training faculty at HBCUs to use computers in the 1970s

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Johnny Houston describes his experience at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Johnny Houston describes his experience at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1979

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Johnny Houston talks about becoming the Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Computer Science at Fort Valley State University in 1981

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Johnny Houston talks about his appointment as the vice chancellor of academic affairs at Elizabeth City State University

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Johnny Houston describes the history of Elizabeth City State University

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Johnny Houston describes his contribution towards the computerization of Elizabeth City State University

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Johnny Houston talks about his publications on the general applications of mathematics

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Johnny Houston describes the growing application of mathematics and computer science in scientific research

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Johnny Houston talks about the ease of scientific collaboration in the modern age of computerization

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Johnny Houston describes how he became involved in the President's Africa Education Initiative: Sub-Saharan Africa Textbooks Project

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Johnny Houston describes his contribution towards the President's Africa Education Initiative: Sub-Saharan Africa Textbooks Project

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Johnny Houston describes his collaboration with the University of Cheikh Anta Diop while working on the Sub-Saharan Africa Textbooks Project

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Johnny Houston describes the two different phases of the Sub-Saharan Africa Textbooks Project in Senegal

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Johnny Houston talks about teaching students to think critically to solve problems in mathematics - part one

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Johnny Houston talks about teaching students to think critically to solve problems in mathematics - part two

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Johnny Houston talks about the scientific contributions of Benjamin Banneker

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Johnny Houston talks about Elbert Frank Cox, who was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. degree in mathematics

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Johnny Houston talks about Euphemia Lofton Haynes, Evelyn Boyd Granville and Marjorie Lee Brown

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Johnny Houston talks about mathematician, J. Ernest Wilkins

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Johnny Houston talks about the accomplishments of mathematician, David Blackwell

Tape: 11 Story: 8 - Johnny Houston talks about African American pioneers in mathematics, and the current occupational trends amongst African American mathematicians

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - Johnny Houston describes his contributions to the field of mathematics, and shares his advice for aspiring mathematicians

Tape: 12 Story: 2 - Johnny Houston reflects upon his choices

Tape: 12 Story: 3 - Johnny Houston describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 12 Story: 4 - Johnny Houston talks about the Black Culture Center at Purdue University and the African Studies Program at Elizabeth City State University

Tape: 12 Story: 5 - Johnny Houston talks about his family

Tape: 12 Story: 6 - Johnny Houston talks about how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$9

DAStory

7$3

DATitle
Johnny Houston talks about his interest in math and science and his chemistry professor at Morehouse College, Henry C. McBay
Johnny Houston describes his experience at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado
Transcript
Now, to Morehouse [College] to talk about the academics. Now did you decide on a major as a freshman?$$When I went to Morehouse as a freshman, I knew I had an analytical mind; I knew I had a curious mind and I told you I had had these two teachers who had mentored me in English in high school. And something annoyed me about them; they would tell me how to do things correctly and why to do it, and then I would find myself doing it and then they--"No, no, you can't do it at this point." I say "Why not?" They say "Because this is the exception to the rule; this is when the rule doesn't apply." (Unclear) "Oh no, this is the exception to"--I say "Well, if it's a rule, it should be a rule." And so I was not--and then in the social sciences, they were talking theories; this is such-and-such-a theory; this is this. I say "Wait a minute, either something is or it isn't." So I liked analytical things and the things that were pretty much straight forward, so I decided the freshman year when I went to Morehouse that I'm sure I'm gonna major in math or science because those--two and two is gonna be four, don't care what you do with it; they're not gonna change. As Mr. Thomas say, "If you heed this compound, this is gonna happen; it's not gonna be these exceptions they keep talking about." So I went there with the understanding that I would either major in mathematics or science because of my very nature, the nature of my mind and what I was most comfortable with. And so I took chemistry my first year there from a professor named Henry C. McBay, perhaps the most renowned African American chemist that we've had in the United States. And he really--he was the most exciting mentor I have had in college; teacher and scholar, he excited me; I took his class, general chemistry, 8:00 in the morning the first year I went to Morehouse. He had a lecture room with 125 seats in it and I would go there and I would sit up near the front; I wanted to hear and learn everything he had to teach. He was a fantastic teacher, great scholar, and he made chemistry come alive, and he excited me; I mean he excited me so much--and the other thing that made me excited was you knew he was a chemist. In the entire--I took two semesters of chemistry from him during my first year at Morehouse, and I only remember him bringing a note or a book to class only once. He was totally prepared mentally with all the details, and he went in there and he could teach chemistry; he knew chemistry and he could teach it. Now there were things in the room like we call the chart of elements [periodic table] and different things he would point to from time to time to refer, but notes he didn't bring. And he had boards that you--you could write on the board and then you could push it up in the air and then pull the other board down and write on it, and then over the other side it had--so we were trying to keep up with him with his writing. But he was a fantastic and inspiring teacher, and he is perhaps the greatest teacher that I have ever had; he inspired me to want to do science and to want to do it well, and I say if I ever taught, I wanted to be like Henry C. McBay.$Now, you did some work with the National Center for Atmospheric Research [NCAR], Boulder [Colorado] right?$$Yes. The idea was and this is one of the things I can never forget my grandmother [Ruth Houston] and mother [Catherine Houston Vinson] for this, they say you learn as much as you can and so what--I talked to some of the professionals--again NAM [National Association of Mathematicians] helped me on this. We were closed out. When I say we, African American mathematicians and scholars were closed out from a lot of the big research labs, a lot of things. But in the '70s [1970s] they start opening up and start letting blacks come out there for internships, or activities during the summer. And so we said, hey we got to take advantage of these things to learn. And they saw that as a forerunner for being able to hire them as full-time employees and also for us to start introducing the students to what they were doing. So, I went out there to Boulder, Colorado and there is something called NOOA, N-O-O-A. It was the National Center for Atmospheric Research, it's on the side of a mountain and it's fantastic. Every morning, five days a week, I had to get up that mountain to that and I had a window in my office and I could look over the mountains. And it was beautiful. In fact, sometime during the lunch hour we would climb some of the smaller cliffs out there--we called them flat irons--just for the heck of it. But that was a fantastic experience because that's when I really got into computer science. They had the first super computer I ever ran into. A large computer was the forerunner to the big super computer and they allowed us to work on it. And you talking about really crunching numbers and we were looking at data they were getting from the atmosphere. And one of the problems they wanted me to work on was unequally spaced data. It was easy to work on data that end up at exact spaces apart, but they found out then in the atmosphere it wasn't like you draw it on the board in the classroom. You had data that was unequally spaced and so the question is--to give an example, if you had one piece of data right here, another piece here, another piece there that was the same distance, well you always knew what was in the middle; it was half the distance between. But what if you got data where one was here then the next piece was there then the next jumped here, how did you handle that data because we needed to know the previous data in order to make predictions about the one up front. And so that was a big problem, how did you handle unequally spaced data. And that was a good computational science problem that I started working on there.$$Okay. Now, also this is at the National Center for Atmospheric Research? And so they had a super computer--this is your first experience with one, what was--can you describe what a super computer was like in '76 [1976]?$$What a super computer was like in '76, I hate to say, but it was like the desktop computers today.$$In terms of the power?$$Yeah. I mean, see in '76 [1976], the only thing that could give--if you had a five hundred and eighty megabytes or if you had one billion gigabytes, only super computers do that. Now you can get a gigabyte on your laptop but back then that was big news; I mean, that was speed. People talk, well wow, you were getting--I don't know whether you ever saw it but the computers back at that time people were talking about thirty-two, thirty-two megabytes or sixty-four, you were on the low computers they had. But you got five hundred and the gigabyte you are the super computer thing.$$Okay.