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Theodore Roosevelt Sykes


  • Ethnicity: African American
  • Gender: M
  • Year of Birth: 1930
  • Place of Birth: Arlington, Georgia


  • PhD Institution: Pennsylvania State University, 1962
  • MA Institution: Pennsylvania State University, 1953
  • BS Institution: Virginia Union University, 1951


Dr. Theodore Roosevelt Sykes was born on December 3, 1930 in Arlington Georgia; the third son of Mr. and Mrs. David Sykes. He succumbed on November 20, 1996. His was serving as a noted professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Fisk University until the time of his death. A scholar, gentleman, and a Christian, he was a dedicated and faithful supporter of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. He joined Hosley CME Church in Georgia at an early age. In 1947 Dr. Sykes graduated from Arlington Vocational High School as Valedictorian of his class; indicating his commitment to scholarship during the early part of his academic studies. During that same year he relocated to Richmond, Virginia where he joined William Temple CME Church, serving as a Sunday School Teacher and active in other ministries. He had gone to Richmond to attend Virginia Union University where he earned a B.S. degree in mathematics in 1951. After he finished Virginia Union University, he matriculated to Pennsylvania State College, in State College, PA, where he earned at M.A. degree in mathematics in 1953.

He served in the United States Army from 1953-56. Following this experience, he returned to Richmond, VA to serve as instructor of Mathematics at Virginia Union University from 1956-58. While in Richmond he married the former Juanita Evans of Richmond and with this union they had two sons: Samuel Douglas and James Elbert. In 1958 he pursued graduate (doctoral) study in Mathematics at Pennsylvania State University; University Park, PA; Earning the Ph.D. in 1962. His research interest was in the area of orthogonal linear spaces. His first academic position after receiving his doctorate was at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, NC where he held the position of professor and Chairman of the Department of Mathematics from 1962-67. Also while in Greensboro, Dr. Sykes became a member of Reed Memorial CME Church were he was a committed member of the Steward Board.

In 1967, Dr. Sykes joined the Department of Mathematics at Fisk University in Nashville, TN. He was Professor of Mathematics from 1967 to 1996 and Chairman of the Mathematics Department from 1974 until his retirement. Dr. Sykes retired from Fish University at the end of 1995-1996 academic year but continued to teach part time. While at Fisk, Dr. Sykes also served part time as teacher of Mathematics at Tennessee State University and Meharry Medical College. Additionally, he taught at numerous HBCU's Summer Programs. He also volunteered his teaching skills to organizations like the Metro Action's GED Program in Nashville. In Nashville, he continued to be active in the church. He joined Capers CME where he served as Trustee, Board Chairman, Sunday School Teacher, District Lay Leader and a member of the Male Chorus and Sanctuary Chair; he also assisted others in their pastoral duties. Dr. Sykes was involved in various civic activities; including being a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. and the Nashville Sportsman Club.

During his twenty-nine years at Fisk, he was respected and appreciated as a gifted teacher, who was both demanding and caring. His students and colleagues saw him as an inspiring mentor who was dedicated to excellence. He encouraged students to continue to pursue further study in mathematics. As a leader, he helped to establish at Fisk a progressive computer science program and he pushed for greater use of technology in mathematics and in other discipline areas on campus.

He was a member of a number of professional organizations, including the Mathematics Association of America (MAA), The National Association of Mathematicians (NAM), and Pi Mu Epsilon . In particular, he was very active with NAM for a number of years and served as President of NAm from 1973-75. For his scholarship, professional and community services, he received several recognitions/awards including NAM's Distinguished Service Award in 1994.

[Johnny L. Houston, Executive Secretary of NAM]

The biography first appeared in the NAM Newsletter, Winter Issue, 1996, p. 4.