Alfred Oscar Coffin: The First African American To Get PhD In Biological Sciences Was Denied Employment

Alfred Oscar Coffin: The First African American To Get PhD In Biological Sciences Was Denied Employment


Alfred Oscar Coffin was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi in 1861. He completed his graduate studies at Fisk University, where he also received his bachelor’s degree. He eventually attended Illinois Wesleyan University to pursue his education.

In 1889, he became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in biological sciences. Despite this tremendous leap, no white-dominated university was prepared to hire him due to 19th-century bigotry.

According to Yale University, he prioritized anthropological study, but his most notable work was The Origin of the Mound Builders, which traced the origins of the Mississippi Valley’s mound builders to a location in Southeastern Mexico.

His second book, Land Without Chimneys or the Byways of Mexico, was released in 1896 by The Editor Publishing Company. His extensive travels in Mexico, notably in Monterey, Mexico City, and Guadalajara, inspired the book. It emphasized the people’s heritage and traced their origins back to the legendary civilization of Atlantis. Coffin’s work was the first time an African American author wrote a significant book about Latin Americans.

He investigated the great level of civilization that existed in ancient Mexico. He mentioned the Montezumas temples, the grandeur of the Toltec culture, and the architecture of Peruvian roadways.

His book also highlighted the palaces of Lake Titicaca’s sub-worshipers and the Pacific slope civilisation, which was a stark contrast to the hunting tribes of the Atlantic. According to, he also investigated the remains of the red men and attempted to connect them to prehistoric ancient Americans.

According to Yale University, he also spent a large amount of time lecturing at two HBCUs, Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College and Wiley University, where he tutored in mathematics and romance languages. From 1895 through 1898, he worked as a disbursement agent at Alcorn A&M.

He also conducted some elementary school teaching and served as a school principal in San Antonio and Kansas City. He volunteered as an agent for Blind Boone, a blind pianist and ragtime musician.

Despite being a leader in the realm of biological sciences, racism became a barrier to his intellectualism in academia.

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