Henry T. Brown, ca. 1955
Henry Thomas Brown [SMChE '56, MIT] of Cincinnati’s West End became the first African American to enroll in UC’s co-op program in 1950, at a time when racial segregation in the U.S. was palpably real. Brown recalls that in those days, all students submitted photos with college applications. After applying to study chemical engineering at UC in 1949, he further recalls receiving a letter asking him to come in for a summertime interview. According to Brown, “I took the letter to the only professional I knew, a lawyer at the YMCA. He read it and looked away. He said, ‘You’ll be interviewed to tell you the hardships of engineering, to be told that no black has ever been there before, and they've never had a black graduate.’ That’s just what happened too. It was done to discourage me from entering, but at the end of that interview, I just said, ‘Thank you. I'll be here in September.’”
I graduated with my BS in chemical engineering in 1955, and like most of us in the 1950s, I was the first black graduate. I led the class. And, it was an interesting experience. I think there were guilty feelings about not ranking me first in the class, so they worked to get me a fellowship to MIT instead. And in 1956 I graduated with a chemical engineering Masters from MIT. I was 2 probably one of the first Masters students of color in chemical engineering there also — if not the first.