In Memoriam: Dr. Wesley Memeger, Jr.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

We were saddened to learn of the passing on May 13th of Dr. Wesley Memeger, Jr., a prominent scientist, artist, and activist in Wilmington, DE. Dr. Memeger, known as Wes by those closest to him, earned his degrees in chemistry from Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University (B.S.) and Adelphi University (Ph.D.), before joining the DuPont Company’s research staff at its Pioneering Research Laboratory located at its Experimental Station in Wilmington.

When he arrived at DuPont in 1964, Dr. Memeger was among the first Black American Ph.D. chemists to join the staff. Among his early professional triumphs was his creation of the chemistry that transformed Kevlar, invented by Dr. Stephanie Kwolek, into a long, high-strength fiber that could be manufactured into a range of products, most famously the bulletproof and fire-resistant protective gear that is now synonymous with the material itself. Dr. Memeger continued his innovative work, garnering 14 patents during his career at DuPont (1964-1997).

Science excited Dr. Memeger’s sense of spatial geometry. During his early career, he began to explore this interest in art, particularly the work of geometric abstract painters like Piet Mondrian, Kazimir Malevich, and Johannes Itten. Even before his retirement, Dr. Memeger began to paint, embarking on an aesthetic journey with his wife, textile artist Harriet Memeger. Over decades, he created a body of work that was widely admired, culminating in an exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum, Wes Memeger: The Square and Other Concerns (2022-2023).

Dr. Memeger’s commitments also expanded beyond the laboratory and the canvas. His activism included participating on the board of the Delaware Council on Crime and Justice (now the Delaware Center for Justice), which was dedicated to ensuring fair treatment for those released from prison. He also served on several boards committed to the arts, such as the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts (now The Delaware Contemporary) and the Christina Cultural Arts Center, where he worked to make art more accessible to a broad audience. While chairing the music committee of the Delaware Symphony Association, he succeeded in introducing Black composers to the Symphony’s repertoire. Dr. Memeger contributed his passion and skill to every aspect of his professional and philanthropic work, establishing himself as a notable and respected part of Wilmington’s culture and history.

Our sympathies are with Dr. Memeger’s wife Harriet, son Zane, and daughter Kim. We are thankful to them for supporting our oral history work with him, which was the basis for a documentary film and a digital exhibit. We are especially grateful that we were able to capture his memories in 2020, at a time when Dr. Memeger could reflect on his life and accomplishments.

Though it is true that Dr. Memeger was a scientist, artist, and activist, it is important to remember Dr. Memeger’s historical role in the contributions of Black Americans to the sciences in Delaware. Please join us in celebrating the life of Dr. Wesley Memeger, Jr. by exploring the Hagley Museum and Library website.

For details about contributions in Dr. Memeger’s honor and his Celebration of Life, please view his official obituary on the Congo Funeral Home website.​

Read more about Dr. Memeger:

Dr. Wesley Memeger, Jr.: Scientist, Artists, Activist

Black STEM Pioneers in Delaware oral history interview

History of Kevlar oral history interview

Dr. Wesley Memeger, Jr.: Science Into Art

Dr. Erik Rau is the Director, Library Services at Hagley Museum and Library