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Cryptologic Pioneers: The African American Experience

African Americans in Cryptologic History

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The experience of African Americans at NSA and its predecessor organization mirrors the African American experience in the United States and the Federal Government in the latter half of the twentieth century.

The first African American hired by the Army Security Agency, and who later made the transition to the Armed Forces Security Agency, worked first in a segregated office. Senior supervisors were white and many of the duties were menial ones not wanted by whites.

In the 1950s, African Americans began to move into the mainstream workforce. The segregated office was abolished and more African Americans received supervisory positions.

Many African Americans advanced to NSA's senior ranks. Many of those who began their careers in the segregated work environment finished at the top of their profession.

For many years, it was believed that African Americans had first been hired to work in cryptology only after World War II. Recent research has revealed, however, that the first large-scale hiring program for African Americans began in 1944. By the end of the war, a segregated office of 30 African Americans was engaged in researching messages encrypted in unknown systems, analyzing them, and producing translations.

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Calvin Brown

Calvin Brown started in the Agency in 1951 as a tabulating machine operator, but since he had completed drafting school, he soon transferred to a facilities management position. After Fort Meade was identified as the new Agency location, two people Mr. Brown and his supervisor, developed the floor plan and move schedule for all the printers, sorters, collators, and card punch machines used by the machine processing unit. Mr. Brown managed the transportation of equipment, its proper placement in the new building, and later assisted in the design of the first raised flooring for computers. Mr. Brown retired in 1982.