S. Allen Counter (Finding Aid)

S. Allen Counter

Interview Length: 112 minutes

Interview Date(s): December 8, 2005; February 8, 2006

Interview Location(s): University Hall, Harvard Yard, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts


S. Allen Counter describes his family background, beginning with his mother, Anne Johnson Counter. She was born in Americas, Georgia. Her parents, Edie Nelms and John Johnson relocated the family to Lantana, Florida after she was born. Counter's mother was a nurse and nursing instructor and his father, Samuel Counter Sr. served in World War II, dying shortly after of a heart attack. Counter's paternal grandfather, Reverend Counter was a prominent figure in the African American Methodist Episcopal church. Counter discusses his family's values, which emphasized religion and education, and about his exposure to different cultures such as the Seminoles in Florida. Counter talks about his two siblings, Jean Counter Powell and Timothy Counter and recalls stories about growing up on the grounds of the tuberculosis health center where his mother worked.

S. Allen Counter describes his upbringing in Boynton Beach, Florida. At the age of six, Counter participated in a civil rights protest at a segregated beach. During that time, beaches were largely unavailable to African American residents and they were relegated to swimming in area swamps. He describes having a normal family life as a child, with church-centered activities and sports. Counter's family was poor, but his grandmother provided them with books and his mother provided them with enriching activities. Counter also discusses attending Boynton Colored Elementary School, which later became Poinciana Elementary School. Though the school had limited resources compared to white elementary schools, Counter's proximity to Cape Canaveral, and access to a science teacher who encouraged him to explore science, helped develop his early interests.

Counter describes attending Tennessee A&I State University in Nashville, Tennessee, graduate school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio and his research as a post doc at Harvard University. Counter attended Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University from 1972 to 1976, where he studied biology and sensory physiology. Counter went on to study electrophysiology at Case Western University, earning his Ph.D. degree in 1979. While at Harvard, Counter studied in the Neurophysiology lab under John Dowling. Counter discusses studying auditory neuroscience under Dr. Ake Flock in Sweden, during which he earned his doctor of medical science degree from the Karolinska Institute. During the 1970s and 1980s, Counter also ran a lead and mercury study of pregnant women and children in Mexico and South America and worked with Massachusetts General Hospital. Counter then discusses his documentary, "I Shall Mold it Before I Shall Be Taken," and his expedition to the North Pole.

Counter talks about his scientific and social expedition to the North Pole in 1986 to investigate the history of its original discovery by Matthew Henson and Robert Peary. During the expedition, Henson and Peary each fathered a child who Counter was able to bring to the United States to meet their relatives. As a result of Counter's efforts, Henson's grave has been moved from a civilian cemetery to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Counter then discusses his work as Director of the Harvard Foundation and his appointment as Counsel to Sweden in 2004 by the Swedish Ambassador. Counter finishes by discussing his legacy and accomplishments.

35 Stories (See Ordered Story Set)