MIT Black History collage

Illuminating the successes and struggles of MIT Black history, 2023

Author(s): Zach Winn
  • Type: Article
  • Researcher: MIT Black History Project
  • Timeline: 2020s
  • Affiliation: Multiple

The MIT Black History Project is documenting 150+ years of the Black experience at the Institute and beyond.

When Victor Ransom ’42 arrived at MIT from New York City in 1941, he discovered a campus electrified by the war effort. People scurried between what he described as MIT’s “massive, unsympathetic buildings” as the campus underwent a transformation that took on new urgency after the attacks on Pearl Harbor that December.

During his sophomore year, Ransom took leave from MIT and joined the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of Black pilots who later earned accolades for their performance in combat. But the airmen experienced racism and segregation during the war. In 1945 Ransom, along with a number of other MIT alumni, took part in protests against the discrimination they faced.

Ransom finished his MIT studies after the war and moved to Virginia to work for NACA, the predecessor to NASA, joining a growing group of Black MIT alumni, faculty, and students who would play a vital role in the U.S. space program. NACA paid for Ransom’s graduate studies, but the nearby University of Virginia would not accept Black students, leading him to move to Cleveland, Ohio, where he attended Case Western Reserve University. Despite the hurdles he faced, Ransom would go on to have a successful career at the renowned Bell Laboratories and in the communications industry.

Ransom’s story is one of the many rich histories highlighted by the MIT Black History Project, an ongoing effort to research and tell the stories of MIT’s Black community that first began in 1995. Sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the project has uncovered more than 150 years of the Black experience at MIT.

“This important work illustrates a more complete telling of the MIT story and provides a platform to reflect on and share some of the Institute’s untold stories,” says Provost Cynthia Barnhart.

The project is led by founder and director Clarence Williams SM ’94, who is also an adjunct professor emeritus at MIT and former special assistant to the president.

“The mission of the project, in my view, is to highlight the achievements that these people have made,” Williams says. “We’re trying to document the role and presence of Black students, faculty, and administrators, and to celebrate their significant role in MIT’s history. Their experience is a model that we should use to continue the progress we’ve made.”


Winn, Zach. "The MIT Black History Project is documenting 150+ years of the Black experience at the Institute and beyond." MIT News, 26 February 2023.