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Cecil McBay is known as the “godfather of African American chemistry.” The renowned scientist and educator spent more than 40 years teaching at historically Black colleges and universities and served as a mentor and advocate for Black chemistry majors across the U.S. 


McBay’s research involved synthesizing compounds from hydrogen peroxide, which led to the discovery of many important materials, including a protein used in prostate cancer treatment. His project earned him an Elizabeth Norton Prize for excellence in chemical research.


McBay received a bachelor’s degree from Wiley College in 1934 and a master’s degree in organic chemistry from Atlanta University in 1936. A major proponent of higher education, he would then spend the next few years helping his siblings pay for college. In 1940, he received a research fellowship at the Tuskegee Institute and two years later a teaching assistantship at the University of Chicago, where he earned his PhD in organic chemistry.


In 1945 he joined the faculty at Morehouse College, where he became chair of the chemistry department and was invited by UNESCO to develop a chemistry education program in Liberia. During McBay’s decades-long career, he would become known as a champion for Black students; in 1972 he co-founded the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers. He joined Atlanta University in 1982 and became the first ever MLK Visiting Scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1991. McBay retired from full-time teaching in 1986 but continued to teach part-time until his death in 1995.

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Chemistry alumnus (PhD'45) who championed Black chemists throughout the U.S.

Cecil McBay.jpeg

Photo SourceAIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Ronald E. Mickens Collection 

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