An accomplished marine biologist with a distinguished international career, Samuel Milton Nabrit was Brown University's first African-American Ph.D. recipient and first African-American trustee. After graduating from Morehouse College in 1925, he studied regeneration in fish tail fins in the doctoral program in biology at Brown and at the Marine Biological Laboratory. Dr. Nabrit began his teaching career at Morehouse College, where he was a professor of zoology and then chair of the biology department from 1932 to 1947. He served as president of the National Institute of Science in 1945. In 1947 he became a member of the Marine Biological Laboratory Corporation (he was only the second African-American scientist to do so) and moved to Atlanta University, where he served as dean of the graduate school of arts and sciences. Dr. Nabrit's scientific papers remained influential for many years and are still cited today in journals including Regeneration, Mechanisms of Development, and Developmental Cell. Dr. Nabrit became the second president of Texas Southern University in 1955, serving in that role until 1966, publishing a number of important papers on the status and future of graduate and professional education for African Americans. Under U.S. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, Dr. Nabrit served in a number of national roles, including membership on the National Science board and on the Atomic Energy Commission, as well as a special ambassadorship. He was a founding member of the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine). In 1967 he became the executive director of the Southern Fellowship Fund, which supported African-American students pursuing doctoral degrees, a post he held until his retirement in 1981.
Dr. Nabrit's contributions and achievements have been recognized and remembered in several ways at Brown University. He was awarded an honorary Sc.D. degree in 1962, and received the William Rogers award, which recognizes Brown alumni for outstanding humanitarian contributions, in 1987. In 1999 a portrait of Dr. Nabrit was unveiled and added to the collection of portraits of important university leaders in Sayles Hall. Since 1985, Nabrit Fellowships have supported graduate students and, more recently, undergraduate researchers from historically underrepresented groups, and The Samuel M. Nabrit Black Graduate Student Association adopted his name in 2005.