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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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Raymond Weir

Raymond J. Weir, Jr. taught science and English in Washington, D.C after graduating from the District of Columbia Teachers College in 1937. Mr. Weir was recruited from the D.C. public schools to join AFSA by Major Fred Hazard, whom he'd worked with during WWII. Mr. Weir broke the color barrier in the agency's Security Division.

Major Hazard felt that, with the large influx of African-Americans into NSA at this time, the Security Division needed an African-American to conduct their polygraph examinations. After graduating from the Polygraph Institute in Chicago, Mr. Weir became the first black polygrapher in the United States, possibly in the world. However, he was not permitted to polygraph non-blacks until the 1960s. In the early 60s, there weren't enough blacks to keep Mr. Weir busy, but there were a lot of whites waiting to be polygraphed. He was then allowed to examine white men from the north and later, white men from the south. It wasn't until the late 1960s that he was permitted to test white women. When he retired in 1976, Mr. Weir was the chief of the Investigations Division and had received the Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 1960 for "unusual and highly significant contributions to agency missions."

Mr. Weir's distinguished career continued after his retirement. He became the first black president of the American Polygraph Association. He also ran his own business, Weir Polygraph Service, and participated in several high-profile polygraph exams. The most well-known was the 1979 financial misconduct trial of Senator Herman Talmadge of Georgia. Mr. Weir polygraphed Senator Talmadge's administrative assistant concerning the existence of a secret bank account. Mr. Weir's statement to the Senate Ethics Committee is believed to be the first polygraph testimony to be received as evidence by either body of Congress. (The Senator was later denounced by the Senate.)