In my opinion, black people are amazing, we can do anything we put our minds to. Our people always rise to the top of the industry or field we chose. This amazing black woman, nicknamed “The Bug Lady” fits the description, becoming a legend in zoology and entomology. On September 4, 1922, Margaret James was born in Institute, West Virginia, the fourth of five children belonging to Rollins and Luella James. Education was a priority in the James household. Rollins James earned a bachelor's degree from West Virginia State University and a master's degree from Tuskegee Institute. He worked in agriculture as a county agent for the USDA, taught vocational agriculture, and directed the poultry program for West Virginia State University. He was also a teacher at West Virginia State Laboratory High School. Luella James’s academic and professional passion was archeology, but West Virginia State did not have the resources for her to fully pursue an education in the field. She eventually dropped out of college and maintained the James household. This environment nurtured one of the most curious and brilliant black minds. As a child, Margaret was fond of playing outside in the woods and collecting all types of bugs, she was also labeled a child prodigy at the age of six.
Being labeled a child prodigy allowed Margaret to have access to the West Virginia State University Library. The combination of exploring in the woods, collecting bugs and animals, and being able to read as much as she wanted in the West Virginia State Library, gave her the greatest joy as she began fulfilling her purpose. Margaret was a brilliant young lady. She could identify all types of animals and insects, and she was well versed in her academic studies. She was so brilliant that she was able to skip ahead two grades, allowing her to graduate high school at the age of fourteen. She earned a scholarship to attend West Virginia State University, her father’s alma mater. Due to Margaret being only a teenager starting college, she encountered some rough times learning to socialize with older college students and finding a mentor. As time passed and she began to settle into college, she found two mentors who helped her fully adjust to college. Soon after, her brilliance was on full display. In 1943, she earned her bachelor’s degree in biology with minors in German and Physics. In 1950, she earned a Ph.D. in Zoology/Entomology from the University of Chicago, becoming the third black woman to earn a Ph.D. in zoology, and the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. in entomology. Her Thesis “Differences in Toleration of Drying among Species of Termites,” was published in 1950, and is said to be one of the most influential and cited zoology/entomology theses ever published. She also used the information in her thesis to publish an article for the scientific journal, Ecology, the journal of the Ecological Society of America.
Margaret was highly influenced by her monitor, a legendary termite expert, Professor Alfred E. Emerson. They met when Dr. Margaret Jones was a freshman and developed a relationship that produced some of the greatest entomological findings. Dr. Jones became a professor at Howard University where she would earn tenure, she also met and married her first husband Bernard Strickland at Howard University. The two were married for a while before divorcing. After the divorce, Dr. Margaret Jones Strickland moved to Tallahassee, FL, and became a professor and chair of the biology department at Florida A&M University. Dr. Strickland was known for taking trips to the various national parks in Florida to conduct research and collect insects. Her brilliance was too much to hide, she was invited to speak at a lecture at Florida State University, but the event was canceled due to a bomb threat. During her time at Florida A&M University, Dr. Strickland earned tenure, and similar to her time at Howard University, she met and married a man named Herbert L. Collins. The couple produced two sons. While living in Tallahassee, FL, Dr. Margaret James Strickland Collins became involved in the local bus boycott and civil rights movement. She became a target of the FBI because she used her car to drive black men and women to work, and she used her platform and notoriety to fight racial injustice. Dr. Collins left Florida A&M University in 1961 after receiving a grant to study at the University of Minnesota for a year. She studied North American termites as a research associate at the Minnesota Agricultural Experimental Station. After her time researching in Minnesota, she once again became a professor at Howard University, also becoming a tenured professor at what is now known as The University of the District of Columbia. While living in Washington D.C., Dr. Collins became the president of the Entomological Society of Washington and a research associate for the Smithsonian Institute.
In 1968, Dr. Collins led a research expedition to Mexico sponsored by the Smithsonian and the graduate school of Howard University. In 1972, the United States IBP Desert Biome Project and the National Science Foundation-funded Dr. Collins’ research in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Later in 1972, Dr. Collins became a guest lecturer at Scripps College in Claremont, California. In the year 1979, Dr. Collins conducted field research in Guyana, masterminded a symposium for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, published a book titled Science and the Question of Human Equality, and conducted research on the defense mechanisms of termites. Over a thirty-plus years career, Dr. Collins conducted field research in North America, South America, and the Caribbean. She discovered a new species of termite in 1989, the Florida damp wood termite. She published more than 40 research papers and was considered the world's foremost authority on termites during her prime. Dr. Collins died on April 27, 1996, a scientific legend in the fields of zoology and entomology. She used her brilliance and curiosity to create a meaningful life and career for herself, she even made a place for herself in the pages of history. Dr. Margaret James Strickland Collins, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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