It wasn’t posted on the front of a lunch counter or on a drink fountain, but the simple statement Roy Clay Sr. received when he showed up for a job interview in St. Louis in 1951 was just as blatant.
The McDonnell Aircraft interviewer told him, “We have no jobs for professional Negroes.” In less than five years, Clay was programming McDonnell’s first computer.
He is one of four historic scientists and engineers featured in the new documentary Freedom Riders of the Cutting Edge, premiering Monday, April 20, 2009 in the world-famous Marcus Books, America’s oldest black-owned bookstore, 1712 Fillmore, at 6 p.m.
Clay was first director of computer research and development at Hewlett-Packard in 1965. At the same time, another St. Louis native, Dr. Frank Greene was a research scientist at Fairchild Semiconductor, gaining a patent for the fastest memory circuit, used to power the Iliac 4 computer at such high-end locations as Ames Space Flight Center. Another Fairchild engineer, Jerry Lawson, is credited with creating the first video game console. The late Ron Jones was creator of the software and hardware to create large-format graphics.
Freedom Riders also celebrates the 50 Most Important African-Americans inTechnology, a designation selected for the past nine years by producer John William Templeton, former editor of the San Jose Business Journal.
All of the Freedom Riders have had a passion for opening doors for the next generation of black technologists through education, on-the-job training and venture funding. In that vein, this premiere also highlights one of the most successful organizations for opening higher education to African-American and other underrepresented minority youth, PACT Inc., a 45-year-old organization created by African-American professionals in 1963. Founders Dr. Henry Lucas, Louis Barnett and Everett Brandon will participate in a post-screening discussion of how to keep the doors of opportunity open.
Freedom Riders next goes to the Mayme E. Clayton Library and Museum in Culver City on Saturday, May 16. Participants will also participate in the Los Angeles Urban Policy Forum at Lucy Florence Art Gallery and Restaurant in Leimert Park that morning.