Apr 21, 2022 | Atlanta, GA
In 1961, three Black students began classes at Georgia Tech and made history, making the Institute the first higher education entity to peacefully integrate in the Deep South without a court order. Civil unrest was rampant throughout college campuses across the South.
In recognition of their roles as trailblazers, Tech’s first Black students — Lawrence Williams, Ralph Long Jr., and the late Ford Greene, along with the first Black graduate Ronald Yancey — were awarded the 2022 Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage on April 20 at the Biltmore Ballroom in Atlanta.
A symposium was led by 2020 Ivan Allen Jr. Prize recipient Charlayne Hunter-Gault where Long Jr., Williams, and Yancey discussed the integration of the Institute, the former students’ personal experiences, and the continued struggle for racial equity and inclusion at higher education institutes across the nation. During the panel session, the three former students recounted the racism they encountered — despite a facade of peaceful integration. Although their experiences left them feeling socially and intellectually isolated from most of the student body at the time, the pioneers expressed their hope that future generations of Black students at Tech feel at home on campus.
“I’m so thankful for those who continue to matriculate here and carry on the tradition,” said Williams.
A video greeting from Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, a Georgia Tech chemical engineering graduate himself, was presented at the celebration. Dickens honored the trailblazers for their courage in making history and acknowledged the hardship they faced along the way.
“I cannot imagine the tremendous amount of courage they had to arm themselves with every day they had to walk on campus,” he said. “Thank you for paving the way for those of us who would come behind.”
The Ivan Allen Jr. Prize honors those who have made a positive difference by risking their careers, livelihoods, and even their lives to stand up for moral principles. For these trailblazers, though their college years were not easy, they went on to have successful and impactful careers.
Greene studied chemical engineering at Georgia Tech. He completed his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science at Morgan State University and worked in telecommunications and information technology systems. He died in 2020 at the age of 76.
After attending Tech, Long completed his bachelor’s degree at Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) in mathematics and physics and was the first Black systems engineer for the Large Systems Group in the Southeastern U.S. at IBM Atlanta.
After his time studying electrical engineering, Williams served honorably in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, earning several distinctions and honors.
A week after graduating with a degree in electrical engineering from Tech, Yancey began a successful career with the U.S. Department of Defense.
Because Greene died in 2020, members of his family joined the other prize recipients at the Biltmore for the day’s events celebrating the honorees’ place in history.
“Ford has always been a change agent, a disruptor, and him being a recipient of this prestigious award solidifies his place in history that he so richly deserves,” said Frankie Hall, Greene’s wife.
The inaugural prize was awarded in March 2011 to former Senator Sam Nunn. A few other past recipients include Dr. Anthony Fauci, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, and humanitarian activist Nancy Parrish.