Remembering Georgia Tech Trailblazer Ford C. Greene

The Georgia Tech community is mourning history-making alumnus Ford C. Greene this week. Greene, who was one of the first black students to enroll at Georgia Tech, died Saturday at age 76.

“We have lost a true Georgia Tech hero. Because of Ford Greene and the other trailblazers who integrated Georgia Tech in the ‘60s, thousands of people of all backgrounds have been able to learn, grow, and contribute to our mission of Progress and Service,” said Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera. “Ford has left an indelible mark on this place. His courage and determination will continue to be an inspiration for generations to come. I send his wife, Frankie, and his entire family my love and respect on behalf of the entire Georgia Tech community.”

Along with Ralph A. Long Jr. and Lawrence Williams, Greene started classes at Tech in 1961. In the fall, all three returned to campus, where they were honored for their courage and memorialized with a new sculpture near the campus’ iconic Tech Tower. A second sculpture honored the first African American graduate, Ronald Yancey.

“It’s important to look back and see your history,” Greene said that day, “measure yourself and see what progress has been made, and also look at what progress needs to continue to be made and move forward.”

Rafael L. Bras, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs and the K. Harrison Brown Family Chair, said, “The fortitude of Ford Greene and his classmates so many years ago changed Georgia Tech forever. Those first steps onto this campus took a bravery like most of us will never have to know. We honor his memory and mourn his loss. He is a part of our history, and we pledge that his story of courage will never be forgotten.”

Greene studied chemical engineering at Georgia Tech after graduating from Henry McNeal Turner High School in Atlanta. He completed a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science at Morgan State University, working for years at IBM and eventually co-founding several telecommunications companies. He was a well-respected leader in the wireless communication industry, testifying before Congress and the Federal Communications Commission and contributing to the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996.

By virtue of an alphabetical seating chart, Francis S. “Bo” Godbold, IE 1965, sat in front of Greene in some classes in 1961. Decades later, he and his wife Betsy provided the gift to Georgia Tech that made the sculptures of Greene, Long, Williams, and Yancey possible.

"This is a great loss for Georgia Tech and for Betsy and me personally,” Godbold said. “Unfortunately, it took me nearly 50 years to understand better the adversity Ford Greene faced at Tech — to have those deep conversations about breaking down racial barriers and his finding the strength to persevere through difficult times. We will never forget his place in Georgia Tech's history. I am so grateful that I got to sit in front of him in several classes in September 1961, had the chance to get to know him personally, and feel blessed to have been with him and his family at the ceremony commemorating his courage with the Three Pioneers sculpture."

“We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Ford C. Greene,” said Archie Ervin, vice president for Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. “As our office made preparations to honor Mr. Greene and the other trailblazers this past September, we learned of his courage and strength in the face of adversity. We are thankful for his efforts and determination, which forever transformed the Georgia Tech community. Our sincerest sympathies are with his wife, Frankie Hall, and the family at this time.”

At a discussion before the sculpture dedication in September, Greene recalled his first class on campus: Army ROTC, then mandatory for all students.

“I was placed in the front rank,” Greene said. “There were numerous ugly remarks coming from the rear of the rank.”

When the platoon commander heard the other students’ comments, he shut them down. It didn’t hurt that the commander was Chick Graning, the football team’s star running back.

“I can’t repeat what Chick told them, but it had something to do with severe bodily harm,” Greene said. “His final threat was, 'I will put you out of ROTC.' ROTC was a requirement for graduation. So, never again did I hear that.”

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