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Cryptologic Pioneers: The African American Experience

African Americans in Cryptologic History

View the African American Honorees

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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Wilhelmena Ware

Ms. Wilhelmena Ware began her career at the Agency in 1949 as a cardpunch operator. In 1952, she was promoted to a supervisory position and in that capacity taught a comprehensive keypunch course to the Agency's first hearing impaired employees. Later, Ms. Ware became a computer science instructor in the National Cryptologic School and taught Introduction to Computer Systems Operations. Ms. Ware was promoted to Chief of the Learning Center where she was instrumental in instituting a number of programs, including the implementation of the sign language course. In 1980, Ms. Ware spearheaded the development of the Agency's instructional television program in partnership with the University of Maryland and George Washington University. Ms. Ware retired in 1993.