Georgia Tech didn’t always have black students. It was September 1961, when three young African American men permeated 76 years of school history, to step on campus as students. It’s now been 50 years since Ford Green, Ralph Long Jr. and Lawrence Williams enrolled at Tech and many things have changed, some have not.
However, through it all the school has become the No. 1 producer of African American engineers in the country, many of whom are today’s top technical and business leaders worldwide — both at Fortune 500 companies and in the entrepreneurship community.
On Nov. 12, the 50th Anniversary Steering Committee Celebrating the Matriculation of Black Students at Tech and the Georgia Tech Black Alumni Organization put together a world-class black-tie event at the Carter Presidential Library to honor legends and leaders during the last half century.
The evening was a night of reunions, reflections, honors, and entertainment. It was an opportunity for current students to meet those early history makers and many more. The evening included a networking reception followed by a multifaceted, multimedia program, which began with a song from the G.I.F.T.E.D. student choir and a dance performance by students from the Price Performing Arts Center, which was founded by alumna Andrea Price.
Actress Keshia Knight Pulliam served as the Mistress of Ceremonies and Dr. Michael Lomax, CEO of the UNCF was the evenings keynote speaker. Dr. Lomax asked all who attended to remember that although African Americans have come a long way in the area of education, blacks still only receive about half as many degrees per capita as the general population. He further implored the many students in attendance to continue opening doors for those coming behind them. As he explained culturally and professionally, African Americans are not at a stopping place in the educational process — just taking a pause to honor some of the pioneers before them.
Drea Lewis, alumna and owner of Dream of Drea Productions, put together a production consisting of poetry, dance, film and a short play that both entertained and educated, while telling the story and sharing different perspectives of the integration of Georgia Tech and the ensuing years. The final performance of the evening was a two-song piano recital by Jade Simmons who has toured the U.S. extensively, and has been invited to the White House to perform next month for the president and first lady. A few of the distinguished Georgia Tech leaders in attendance included two of those first three black students, Ford Greene and Ralph Long Jr.
Other distinguished guests included: Ronald Yancy, first African American graduate; William Stanley III, first African American architecture graduate; Dr Gary May, first African American alumnus to become a department chair and first African American dean of the College of Engineering, Dr. Augustine Esogbue, first African American professor; Karl Barnes, first African American Georgia Tech Foundation Trustee, Patrise Perkins-Hooker, first African American to receive the Young Alumni Award, and Debra Thompson, first African American Manager of alumni affinity groups. In addition; state Senator Jason Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter; Eldridge McMillan, first African American to chair Georgia’s Board of Regents and Bud Peterson, current Georgia Tech president also attended along with other business and civic leaders attended this affair.