Harold Amos (1918-2003), Pennsauken, New Jersey, was the Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, as well as the Chair, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and Chair, Division of Medical Sciences, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. He was the first African American doctoral graduate of the Division of Medical Sciences, Harvard Medical School, in 1952, and the first African American to serve as a Chair of a department at Harvard Medical School. Amos is known for his research into bacterial metabolism and animal and bacterial virology, including the use of bacterial RNA to program higher cell protein synthesis, enzyme inductions, insulin, serum, temperature effects, ribosomes, phosphoproteins, RNA metabolism, as well as glucose starvation and glycerol and hexose metabolism.
Harold Amos was born September 7, 1918, in Pennsauken, New Jersey, the second of nine children of Howard R. Amos, Sr. and Iola Johnson. He graduated first in his class from Camden High School in New Jersey in 1936, and completed his undergraduate studies at Springfield College, Springfield, Massachusetts, graduating summa cum laude in 1941 with a major in Biology and minor in Chemistry. Amos was a graduate assistant in the Biology Department, Springfield College, until he was drafted into the Quartermaster Corps of the United States Army (1942). He served during World War II as a warrant officer in a battalion that supplied gasoline to troops; he spent two years in England before serving in France and former Czechoslovakia until his discharge (1946).
Amos enrolled in the Biological Sciences’ graduate program in the Division of Medical Sciences, Harvard Medical School, in 1946, and completed his Master’s degree in 1947. He became the first African American to earn a doctoral degree from the Division of Medical Sciences, Harvard Medical School, in 1952. Amos received a Fulbright fellowship and worked in the laboratory of Georges Cohen at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France, working with the threonine mutants of Escherichia coli (1951-1952). Amos then returned to Harvard Medical School in 1954 as an Instructor, Department of Bacteriology and Immunology. He advanced to the position of full Professor in 1969. He was the first African American to head a department at Harvard Medical School when he became the Chair, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, a role he held from 1968-1971 and again from 1975-1978. He also served as the Chair, Division of Medical Sciences, two times (1971-1975, 1978-1988). In 1975, he became the Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, and held this role until he became a Professor Emeritus in 1988. After his retirement, he became an active member of the Minority Medical Faculty Development Program Advisory Committee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and continued to work in the laboratory of Jack Murphy at Boston University up until his death.
Much of Amos’s research focuses on bacterial metabolism and animal and bacterial virology, though his initial focus was on Escherichia coli and its phages, including the 1958 finding of 5-methylcytosine in Escherichia coli, which was only confirmed decades later. During his time at Harvard Medical School, Amos studied the use of bacterial RNA to program higher cell protein synthesis, enzyme inductions, insulin, serum, temperature effects, ribosomes, phosphoproteins, RNA metabolism, as well as glucose starvation and glycerol and hexose metabolism.
Amos was professionally active in many ways, especially those focused on minority students and faculty members. He was on the Board of Directors, Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, and on the Minority Medical Faculty Development Program Advisory Committee, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. He was on the National Cancer Society Advisory Board and the President’s Cancel Panel. He was a President of the Massachusetts Division, American Cancer Society, and a lifetime delegate to the National American Cancer Society Assembly, the volunteer governing body of the American Cancer Society. Throughout his career, Amos was an advocate for National Institutes of Health and the Federation of American Society for Experimental Biology programs for minority college students.
For his scholarly work, Amos received numerous awards. He received the Honoris Causa doctoral Degree, Harvard University (1996), and the Centennial Medal of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (2000). Amos was awarded the first Charles Drew World Medical Prize from Howard University (1989), and received the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences (1995). He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1974) and was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1991) and the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences (1991). Additionally, Amos received the first annual Harold Amos Faculty Diversity Award for his contributions to diversity efforts at Harvard Medical School.
The items displayed below both demonstrate both Amos's scientific research and his advocacy for minority education and faculty development.