A Timeline of Black History at Georgia Tech
As Black History Month begins, explore a timeline highlighting some of the Black students, athletes, and faculty members at Georgia Tech who have broken barriers, overcome challenges, and left an enduring legacy.
Amid the Civil Rights Movement, Ford C. Greene, Ralph A. Long Jr., and Lawrence Williams became the first Black students to enroll at Georgia Tech. The trio’s persistence saw them gain acceptance to Georgia Tech after submitting multiple applications, and their courage paved the way for the next generation of Black students. They are enshrined on campus with a commemorative statue, The Three Pioneers, in Harrison Square.
Ronald Yancey walked across the Commencement stage with an electrical engineering degree, becoming the first Black student to earn a degree from Georgia Tech. Yancey was initially denied admission multiple times but was eventually admitted as a transfer student from Morehouse College. He faced isolation on campus and was often required to complete additional coursework compared to his white classmates. A statue of Yancey — The First Graduate — sits on the stairs of the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons.
In a winning effort over rival UGA, Harvey Webb broke the color barrier as a member of the Yellow Jackets freshman men's basketball team. In 1971, Karl Binns would become the first Black member of the men’s varsity basketball team.
After walking on to the Georgia Tech football team at the invitation of Coach Bud Carson, Karl Barnes would go on to become the first Black student-athlete and letter winner (football and track) to graduate from Georgia Tech. The defensive back is a double Jacket, earning a bachelor's degree in industrial management in 1973 and a master's degree in architecture in 1977.
One year later, quarterback Eddie McAshan took the field as the first Black player to receive a football scholarship at Georgia Tech and was the second Black QB at a major college football program in the Southeast.
Women were first admitted to Tech in 1952, but it wasn't until 1970 that Adesola Kujoure Nurudeen, Tawana (Derricotte) Miller, Grace Hammonds, and Clemmie Whatley became the first Black women to enroll at the Institute.
An Atlanta native who dreamed of attending Georgia Tech, Milton Woodward found his way here as a graduate student after earning his undergraduate degree from Howard University. Working toward his degree in electrical engineering, Woodward didn't realize he would become the first Black student to earn a master's at Tech until one of his professors told him shortly before graduation.
Before founding the architectural firm Love-Stanley along with his wife, Ivenue, Bill Stanley became the first Black student to graduate from Georgia Tech with a degree in architecture in 1972. Together, the couple designed the Olympic Aquatic Center, which hosted swimming, diving, and water polo during the 1996 Summer Olympics. It was later enclosed and renamed the McAuley Aquatic Center.
After completing their undergraduate degrees at Clark University, Clemmie Whatley and Grace Hammonds pursued master's degrees in math at Georgia Tech and became the Institute’s first Black alumnae.
A dual degree from Spelman College, Donna Jean Smith became the first Black female undergraduate from Georgia Tech to graduate with a chemical engineering degree.
One year after the inaugural season of the Georgia Tech women's basketball team, known then as the Yellow Jackettes, Jan Hilliard became the first Black female student-athlete to play for Tech.
Tawana (Derricotte) Miller and Brenda Elayne Gullatt became the first Black women to graduate with a bachelor's degree in the four-year program at Georgia Tech. Miller has detailed the opposition she faced throughout her time on campus. Three of her four children also graduated from Georgia Tech.
Professor Emeritus Augustine Esogbue arrived at Georgia Tech as an associate professor in 1972 via a joint appointment with the Health Systems Research Center. In 1977, Esogbue became the Institute's first Black tenured faculty member. Before coming to Tech, he earned a doctorate in industrial engineering and operations research, making him the world's first Black Ph.D. in the field. After decades of working to improve opportunities for minorities in STEM fields, Esogbue retired from Georgia Tech in 2010.
Hired as an associate professor in the School of Sciences in 1972, Dorothy Cowser Yancy received tenure in 1980 — becoming the first Black female faculty member to be promoted and tenured as a full professor at Georgia Tech. She served as associate director of the School of Social Sciences before becoming the president of Johnson C. Smith University.
K.G. White was the first Black student-athlete to play baseball at Georgia Tech. The outfielder was a first-team All-ACC selection in 1987 and 1988 and was inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.
The Ph.D. program in the School of Aerospace Engineering was established in 1961, but it wasn’t until 30 years later that Air Force Captain Bryan Fortson became the program’s first Black graduate. Forston had previously earned a bachelor’s degree in materials engineering from MIT, a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, and another in management science from the University of Dayton.
Jacqueline Jones Royster led the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts from 2010 to 2019 as the first Black dean at Georgia Tech. Under Royster's leadership, the College doubled its enrollment, surpassed fundraising goals, launched new degree programs, and established new scholarship programs. Among many accolades, Royster received the Pioneer Award from the Georgia Tech Black Alumni Organization and was selected as a Top Five Role Model in Atlanta by Women@The Frontier, Invest Atlanta, and the City of Atlanta.
Over 26 years, Gary May served in several roles at his alma mater, eventually becoming the first Black dean of the College of Engineering. As dean, May was committed to mentoring students while working to attract and retain female and minority students in STEM fields. He also played a key role in the growth of Tech Square. In 2021, he received a Lifetime Mentor Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an honorary doctorate from Georgia Tech. He went on to serve as chancellor at the University of California, Davis.
Tech alumnus Charles Isbell joined the faculty in 2002 and became the first Black dean of the College of Computing in 2019. Under his leadership, the College maintained Top-10 rankings while doubling enrollment. For his efforts in emphasizing the social responsibility of the computing field, Isbell received the Richard Tapia Award for Scientific Scholarship, Civic Science, and Diversifying Computing from the Association for Computing Machinery. He was named provost at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2023.
Compiled by Steven Gagliano with collaboration from the Georgia Tech Library Archives