Harriet J. Walton ’57

Harriet WaltonHarriet J. Walton ’57 arrived at Syracuse University in the fall of 1955, just as the Civil Rights movement was beginning in the United States. A student during the years prior to the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and similar movements, Walton considers her experience at SU to be rare for the time period. “As a young black woman from the deep south,” she says, “I was somewhat unique in my position at the University.” But far from being deterred by adversity, she used her time at SU to ardently pursue her academic goals and establish her place within the campus community.

Having already obtained a master’s degree in mathematics from Howard University, and in pursuit of a Ph. D. in the same subject, Walton initially planned to study for a year, take time off to get married and return later to complete her degree. However, a professor urged her to remain in school for two years and obtain another master’s degree. This decision gave Walton the opportunity to teach at a large institution—another rarity for the time. She’s proud to have taught college courses at SU, and to have brought her perspective to a university that, in the 1950s, provided little space for viewpoints and experiences like hers.

After teaching at Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) as a student, Hampton Institute and Syracuse University, Walton joined the Morehouse College faculty at in 1958. She taught mathematics at Morehouse for more than 40 years, retiring in 2000. Walton credits her success in her field to “studying hard and taking advantage of opportunities when they were available.” This strong work ethic and eye for opportunity helped her earn a Ph. D. in mathematics from Georgia State University, all while maintaining her position at Morehouse College and raising her young family.

Reflecting on her time at SU, Walton says, “With confidence in oneself, with adequate preparation, and with sufficient support, much can be achieved in life.” As an SU alumna, Walton has spent her long career forging a path for black women in mathematics, and passing on the values of hard work, preparation, and seeking support to her students. Her annual symposium on undergraduate mathematics research, held at Morehouse College, continues to provide impetus and inspiration for students to pursue mathematics research, and contribute to the growth of the field Walton has made her life’s work.