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African American Women Chemists$
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Jeannette Brown

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199742882

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199742882.001.0001

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From Academia to Board Room and Science Policy

From Academia to Board Room and Science Policy

Chapter 7 From Academia to Board Room and Science Policy
African American Women Chemists

Jeannette Brown

Oxford University Press

Reatha Clark King is a woman who began life in rural Georgia and rose to become a chemist, a college president, and vice president of a major corporate foundation. Reatha Belle Clark was born in Pavo, Georgia, on April 11, 1938, the second of three daughters born to Willie and Ola Watts Clark Campbell. Her mother Ola had a third grade education and her father Willie was illiterate. Her families were sharecroppers in Pavo. Her mother and grandmother raised her in Moultrie, Georgia, after her parents separated when she was young. She and her sisters worked long hours in the cotton and tobacco field during the summer to raise money. She could pick 200 pounds of cotton a day and earn $6.00, which was more than her mother’s salary as a maid. 1 In the 1940s in the rural segregated South, the only career aspirations for young black girls were to become a hairdresser, a teacher, or a nurse. Reatha started school at the age of four in the one-room schoolhouse at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Still more than a decade before Brown v. Board of Education , Reatha’s schools were segregated. The teacher, Miss Florence Frazier, became Reatha’s first role model. Reatha said, “I never wondered if I could succeed in a subject. It was only a question of whether I wanted to study the subject.” She later attended the segregated Moutrie High School for Negro Youth. Despite missing much school to attend to fieldwork, Reatha maintained her studies. She graduated in 1954 as the valedictorian of her class. Reatha received a scholarship to enter Clark College in September 1954, originally planning to major in home economics and teach in her local high school. These plans changed after her first chemistry course with Alfred Spriggs, the chemistry professor. He encouraged her to major in chemistry and go to graduate school. She found that chemistry was the perfect major for her. She says, “Both the subject matter and methodology were interesting and challenging; the laboratory and lecture sessions were exciting; and my fellow students in chemistry were both serious students and fun to work with.”

Keywords:   Arizona State University, Florida A&M University, General Mills, Intel Corporation, King, Reatha Clark, Metropolitan University, National Bureau of Standards, Separate But Equal Rule

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