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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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James W. Pryde

2006 Hall of Honor Inductee

African American Honoree

Mr. James W. Pryde joined the Army Air Corps and in 1944 entered aviation school. Instead of becoming a pilot, Mr. Pryde became a radio operator with WWII's famous Tuskegee Airmen. He then joined the Armed Forces Security Agency in 1950 as a communications clerk and was assigned to the mailroom. When it was discovered he could read automatic Morse tape, he was transferred to a signals analysis section, where he became a telemetry analyst.

Mr. Pryde then spent two years on detail to the staff of the Assistant Secretary of Defense. He served as the Director of the Defense Special Missile and Astronautics (now Aerospace) Center (DEFSMAC) from 1978 to 1980. While at DEFSMAC, he became a member of the Intelligence Community's Guided Missile Astronautic Intelligence Committee. In 1980, Mr. Pryde served as the NSA representative to the Department of Defense and in 1981 served as Assistant Deputy Director of Administration at NSA.

During his tenure, Mr. Pryde served as an advocate for NSA African-Americans. Through his efforts he helped promote a diverse workforce within NSA, and has striven since to remind the current generation of the struggles waged by their predecessors for equality. Mr. Pryde retired from NSA in 1981, but continues to serve NSA interests as a member of the National Cryptologic Museum Foundation.