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Henry C. McBay Papers

Identifier: 2022-017

Scope and Content

The Henry C. McBay Papers contain the professional and personal papers of African American chemist and chemistry educator Henry C. McBay. The contents of the Henry C. McBay Papers had very little original order to them when donated to the Science History Institute. The collection has been arranged artificially by the processor into the following ten series:

  1. Correspondence Files
  2. Academic Files
  3. Proposal Files
  4. Article and Publication Files
  5. Speeches and Presentations
  6. Education Files
  7. Personal Files
  8. Printed Materials
  9. Miscellaneous Files
  10. Photographs


  • Creation: 1934-1998


Access Restrictions

There are no access restrictions on the materials for research purposes and the collection is open to the public.

Copyright Information

The Science History Institute holds copyright to the Henry C. McBay Papers. The researcher assumes full responsibility for all copyright, property, and libel laws as they apply.

Background Note

Henry C. McBay (1914-1995) was an African American chemist and chemistry educator. Born in Mexia, Texas on May 29, 1914, McBay earned his B.S. degree in Chemistry from Wiley College (1934) and his M.S. degree in Chemistry from Atlanta University (1936). After earning his M.S. degree, he taught college chemistry at Wiley College (1936-1938) and Western University (1938-1939). From 1939 to 1940, he taught high school chemistry in Huntsville, Alabama.

In 1940, McBay joined a research team at Tuskegee Institute, which was charged with finding a substitute for jute fiber that could be used for rope and burlap bags. At the time, jute imports to the United States from India had been cut off due to the outbreak of World War II. The Tuskegee team hoped that okra stems could be used as a jute substitute. In the course of his work in this area, McBay found that okra stems were too brittle for this purpose.

In 1942, McBay accepted a departmental assistant position at the University of Chicago’s Department of Chemistry, which allowed him to pursue his Ph.D. At Chicago, he studied under organic chemist Morris S. Kharasch and focused on producing compounds from acetyl peroxide. For this work, McBay was twice awarded the university’s Elizabeth Norton Prize for Excellence at Research in Chemistry (1944 and 1945). McBay earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1945. His doctoral research on acetyl peroxide was later used to develop a treatment for prostate cancer.

In 1945, McBay was appointed Assistant Professor at Morehouse College’s Department of Chemistry, where he enjoyed a long and distinguished career (1945-1981). At Morehouse, he rose to the rank of David Packard Professor of Chemistry and served as the Chairman of the Department of Chemistry. During his tenure at Morehouse, he also taught chemistry courses at Atlanta University and Spelman College, which along with Morehouse, were members of the Atlanta University Center. Also, during his stint at Morehouse, McBay served as a technical expert for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), helping to establish a chemistry education program in Liberia (1951-1952).

In 1982, McBay moved to Atlanta University, where he served as the Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Chemistry (1982-1986). He retired from Atlanta University in 1986 at the rank of Emeritus Professor of Chemistry. In 1990, he was appointed the first Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In retirement, McBay continued to teach chemistry on a part-time basis at Atlanta University (renamed Clark Atlanta University in 1988) and Morehead College until his death.

During his career, Henry C. McBay was renowned for his abilities as a teacher. He mentored numerous African American chemistry students over the course of his teaching career. Over fifty of his students went on obtain Ph.D.’s and medical degrees. Former students of McBay include chemist Dolphus E. Milligan, chemist Frederic A. Van-Catledge, and chemist (and collection donor) Billy Joe Evans.

McBay was also noted for his chemistry research on organic free-radicals, which included his work on acetyl peroxide, fructose, and electron spin free resonance properties. In the latter stages of his career, he focused his attention on the study of chirality in molecular processes. McBay authored and co-authored over twenty scientific journal articles and papers.

Henry C. McBay was an active member of several professional organizations, including the American Chemical Society and the American Institute of Chemists. He was also an advocate for minority education and professional advancement, which included being a co-founder of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers. McBay was also recipient of a number of awards, including the Charles H. Herty Award (1976) and the James Flack Norris Award for Outstanding Teaching (1978).

Henry C. McBay was married to Shirley Mathis McBay, an African American mathematician and minority education advocate. Professor Mathis McBay was the first African American to obtain a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia (1966). She later served as director of the National Science Foundation’s Minority Institutions Science Improvement Program and as Dean of Student Affairs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Henry C. McBay passed away on June 23, 1995.


Henry C. McBay Papers, Science History Institute Archives, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

McBay, Henry C., William M. Jackson, and Billy Joe Evans. Henry C. McBay: A Chemical Festschrift: Proceedings of A Symposium in Honor of the First Martin Luther King Jr., Scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1994.


7.0 Linear Feet (5 Record Boxes)

Language of Materials



Correspondence, professional files, manuscripts, personal files, printed materials, and photographs of African American chemist and chemistry educator Henry C. McBay.

Acquisition Information

The Henry C. McBay Papers were donated to the Science History Institute by Billy Joe Evans in March 2022.

Related Materials

There are no other known archival collections created by Henry C. McBay preserved at the date of processing.

Processing Information

The Henry C. McBay Papers were processed by Kenton G. Jaehnig in July 2022.

Henry C. McBay Papers
Finding aid created and encoded into EAD by Kenton G. Jaehnig.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Science History Institute Archives Repository

315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia PA 19106 United States
215.873.5265 (Fax)