Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.


October 7, 2022

A chance encounter in college led Williams to develop a friendship with Eva Dykes, the first Black woman to complete the requirements for a PhD. Later, he learned about two other Black women who received their PhDs the same year. Thus, Breaking Barriers was conceived as a way to honor these women and educate the public on their accomplishments.

You’ve written a number of books before Breaking Barriers. Did you always want to write?

I have always loved writing and have long been fascinated with words. In high school, English was my favorite subject and my English teacher, Miss Lang, was my favorite teacher. In college, I was on the school newspaper staff and editor of the yearbook twice.  

What’s the story behind this book?

This book is about Black brilliance and three visionary Black women with massive determination. At Oakwood College, now known as Oakwood University, in Huntsville, Ala., my English professor was Dr. Eva B. Dykes. At first, I didn’t know who that strict little lady was, but I soon learned she was the first Black woman to complete the requirements for a PhD. She graduated from Radcliffe College, which at the time was known as the female Harvard. She left Howard University, the best Black school in the world at that time, to come to our little Christian college in the South. I worked for Dr. Dykes as her reader before graduating in 1962 but came back to interview Dr. Dykes in 1983 in order to write my first book, She Fulfilled the Impossible Dream. I later learned that there were two other women who earned their PhD degrees along with Dr. Dykes in June 1921, and I started researching them. I was fascinated by this trio of unstoppable Black women who earned doctoral degrees at all-white, Ivy League, Northern institutions a century ago.

Dr. Sadie T. Mossell (Alexander) was the only one of the three who married. She never used her PhD degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. Instead, she earned another degree in law at her alma mater, became a lawyer, and worked with her distinguished lawyer/judge husband in fighting unjust civil rights issues. Dr. Alexander worked with Presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Carter to bring about better racial and human relations. Remarkably, Dr. Georgiana Simpson was about 30 years older than the other two women. Her parents were former slaves and could not read or write. Mossell (Alexander) and Dykes came from homes where the father had deserted the family. They endured Jim Crow laws and the Black codes of the time.
What research did you do to ensure historical accuracy?  

I knew Dr. Dykes personally and interviewed her. Dykes and Alexander were also interviewed in the famous Harvard Black Women Oral History Project (1977–1978), so I had quite a bit of information about them. Because Dr. Simpson died in 1944, she was not interviewed in that project and there was very little written about her. I had to delve into old books, newspapers, archives, and letters to find information. I eventually tracked down some Simpson family members and interviewed them.

Why do you think this book is particularly relevant now?

We don’t know that “impossible” dreams can be fulfilled until a believer with undaunted perseverance, courage, and vision takes those first difficult steps and shows us the way. Then, having seen the dream fulfilled, we follow along. We imitate. We grow. “Firsts” are pioneers, trailblazers who let us realize that our “impossible” dreams can come true today.

What’s next for you?

I enjoy writing about pioneering Black women. My book Go Where the People Hurt, on Dr. Ruth Janetta Temple, was published last month. She was the first Black medical doctor in California. Covid-19 knocked me out for several months, but I’m getting back to normal and hope to share this story more with the public in a few weeks.

For more, visit