Dr. Reuben R. & Nannie McDaniel
By Maurice B. Jones
Reuben Roosevelt McDaniel was born during a time in Virginia when Blacks only required schooling to the fifth grade. He attended the first five grades of his elementary education in Fairfax County and afterwards went to live with his sister in Washington, D.C. where a placement test put him in the 9th grade. He attended night school in Southeast Washington D.C. at Garnet C. Wilkinson Elementary and worked delivering mail during the day.
One of Reuben's mail stops was the US. Department of the Navy where Reuben made friends with a white man named Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who later became President of the United States), who suggested Reuben attend high school. But high school was only in session during the day, so Roosevelt found a night job for him and registered Reuben into Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Northwest Washington, D.C.
Reuben's high school work was spectacular and resulted in a scholarship to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 1928, McDaniel became a member of Phi Beta Kappa, widely considered to be the nation's most prestigious honor society. In June 1928 he graduated with a Bachelor of Science, and went to work at Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute (now Virginia State University) as an Instructor.
Reuben left Virginia and entered the graduate program at Cornell University, considering Cornell was the first American university to award a Ph.D. in mathematics to an African American man in 1925. In 1931 he completed his Master’s degree in Mathematics. His 27 page thesis, On Certain Definitions of the Definite Integral, focused on Riemann's interest in finding the area under a curve. The Riemann integral is a subject now taught in high schools and in freshman Calculus.
After graduating from Cornell, McDaniel returned to Virginia State College with the rank of Associate Professor of Mathematics. On December 24, 1934 Reuben married Nannie Finney, who had attended high school at Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute. They had a son, Reuben Jr., and a daughter, Joann.
After graduating from high school Nannie returned to Virginia State College for Negroes where she joined the Alpha Eta Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, became the first graduate of the newly established Department of Business earning her certificate in Secretarial Science, completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and continued her education earning a Master of Science degree in Business Administration and graduate studies in business at the University of Wisconsin and New York University.
In 1936, Reuben McDaniel, Sr. returned to Cornell University, his studies were partially financed by the John D. Rockefeller Fellowship for African Americans and the Cornell University Erastus Brooks Mathematics Fellowship. In 1938, he obtained his Ph.D. in Mathematics from Cornell. His thesis was: Approximation to Algebraic Numbers by Means of Periodic Sequences of Transformations on Quadratic Forms.
Dr. McDaniel returned to Virginia State College for Negroes and soon was Chairman and Professor of Mathematics, much later he took a broader role as Director of the School of Arts and Sciences.
Nannie McDaniel worked at Virginia State in administrative roles, including secretary to the Dean of the College, Veteran's Administration office and Supervisor of the Central Stenographic Pool. After receiving her Master's degree, she accepted a position on the Faculty of the Business Department, where she taught courses in Secretarial Science, Economics and Introduction to Business. She joined Zion Baptist Church in Petersburg, Virginia where she served as Treasurer for 20 years and Founder/Editor of the Zion Herald News church newspaper for 45 years.
Mr. and Mrs. McDaniel never skipped Convocation, Commencement, Honor's Day or a home football game. Students were always welcome in their home, where they could get tutoring, the chance to pick up some money doing an odd job or two, or comfort at a time of family crisis.
After the McDaniel’s retired, Dr. Reuben R. McDaniel, Sr. passed away January 19, 1975. The Hunter-McDaniel Building on the campus of Virginia State University is named in his honor.
In September 1976, Nannie was asked to serve as Academic Dean at Morristown Junior College in Morristown, Tennessee and she retired again in 1978. After a short period, Nannie took a part-time position at the Virginia State College Federal Credit Union to help out for a couple of years, she stayed for 20 years and retired for good in 1998. Mrs. Nannie Finney McDaniel died peacefully in Arlington, Virginia in June 2009 at the age of 101. The McDaniel’s are buried at Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia.
The McDaniel family continues to be pioneers in education. Dr. Reuben R. McDaniel, Jr. is the Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Regents Chair in Health Care Management, teaching at the University of Texas since 1972. Myra McDaniel served as the first African American Secretary of State for the State of Texas from 1984 – 1987. Diane McDaniel Rhodes is a Lecturer at the school of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. Reuben R. McDaniel, III served as Chairman of the Atlanta Board of Education 2010-2013.
Dr. John M. Hunter
John McNeile Hunter (1901 - 1979) was a physicist, chemist, educator and administrator. Born in Woodville, Texas, Hunter did as much as any single individual in America to add physics to the curriculum of black students and to add black students to the professional rosters of physics. He received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a M.S. in Physics from Cornell University and conducted research in the area of thermoionics.
In 1925 he obtained a position at Virginia State College (now University) as teacher of electrical wiring and operator of the power plant. Later he started the Physics Department, serving as a Professor and the first Chairman of the newly created department.
Due to school segregation and economic inequality, when Hunter started teaching in the 1920’s, there were approximately 1000 physicists with Ph.D.’s in the United States, however only one was African American.
Hunter wrote a dissertation entitled “The Anomalous Schottsky Effect for Oxygenated Tungsten”, and earned a Ph.D. degree in Physics from Cornell University in 1937. Hunter was the third African American in the U.S. to receive a Ph.D. in Physics. In 1939, Hunter’s student Herman Branson became the fourth African American to earn a doctorate degree in Physics.
Known as “The Big 3”, Hunter worked with Dr. Reuben R. McDaniel (Chairman of Mathematics) and Dr. T. Nelson Baker, Jr. (Chairman of Chemistry) and other professors to build programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (now called STEM).
His wife, Dr. E. Louise Stokes Hunter helped students matriculate through the Physics department by teaching mathematics. She earned a B.S. and M.S. from Howard University, both in Mathematics. With the unified mentality among African Americans always aware that you “never go anywhere by yourself”, Louise Hunter entered the University of Virginia (UVA) along with fellow Virginia State College faculty member Walter Ridley. Louise Hunter earned her doctorate in August 1953, becoming the first African American woman and the second African American to earn a degree at UVA. Ridley was the first African American to graduate from UVA.
John and Louise Hunter had one daughter, Jean (1938-2011) who earned a B.S. in Psychology from Virginia State College in 1957. Jean followed in her mother’s footsteps, joining Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and also attending Howard University, where she taught after earning a M.S. in Experimental Psychology in 1959.
The first meeting of African-American physicists was held in 1973 at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. The purpose was to honor three outstanding African- American physicists including Dr. John M. Hunter. Shortly after, discussions took place on establishing some type of national Black physics organization. The Society of Black Physicists was inaugurated in 1977 at Morgan State University with Dr. James Davenport, Chair of the Physics Department at Virginia State College, serving as secretary-treasurer.
During his 43 years of teaching at Virginia State College, over 50 of his students became physicists, engineers, and professors, 10 earned Ph.D.’s in Physics and two became Presidents at Fisk University, Central State University and Lincoln University.
By the time of his retirement in 1968, Dr. Hunter had served as Professor and Chairman of Physics, Director of the Division of Graduate Studies and Research, and Dean.
Dr. Hunter was a charter member of the Alpha Phi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. at Virginia State University. The Hunter-McDaniel Building on the campus is named in honor of Dr. John M. Hunter and Dr. Reuben R. McDaniel.
Gordon, J. U. (2002). The Black male in white America. Hauppauge, NY:
(1953, September). Education. Jet Magazine, 26