Breaking barriers at Brown and beyond: Walter Massey, Brown and the National Society of Black Physicists

Physicist Walter Massey was the first Black professor of physics at Brown.

Walter Massey, Brown's first African American professor of physics, was recently profiled in the New York Times by science writer Katrina Miller. In Miller's profile, Massey relates being overcome with emotion watching the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King on television; this experience - and the resulting introspection - changed the direction of his life and career.

During a time of social upheaval that witnessed the court-ordered integration of schools and colleges, Massey questioned how he could better support Black students aspiring to careers in science and, specifically, physics. Among other contributions to this end, he went on to help found the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP), whose mission is to “promote the professional well-being of African American physicists and physics students within the international scientific community and within society at large.” Massey is now an NSBP Fellow.

Brown and the NSBP

Massey helped found the NSBP in 1978 while a professor of physics at Brown. Past presidents of the NSBP include theoretical physicist and former Brown professor Sylvester James “Jim” Gates, Jr. and Professor Stephon Alexander.  Brown recently welcomed its first NSBP chapter, the Brown Bears NSBP (BB.NSBP), which promotes “the professional development and well-being of Black students pursuing physics degrees at Brown,” founded by Ph.D. students Farrah Simpson and Rutendo Jakachira.

Read more about Walter Massey in Miller’s profile.