The Heroine of Harlem

The daughter of a slave leaves her mark on cancer research

May was a musician. An incredibly talented pianist. She spent several years as accompanist for Paul Robeson (a renowned performer best known for his rendition of “Ol’ Man River”). She entered Columbia University’s Teachers College in 1917, with plans to major in music. Her racist professors made the experience hellish, giving her lower grades than the white students.

“[I was told] because I was of African descent, that unless I could afford to go to Europe for final…