I don’t need to remind my regular readers and visitors to A Bridge for Business & STEM, that here in the United States, Black History Month is observed during the month of February. Since launching this blog, I have attempted to provide at least one post during Black History Month that highlights an historic figure of the past or present, or an important event in American history. I have often chosen to highlight an unsung hero – someone who isn’t as well known by the masses.
Why? Because Black history is American history and it is being made everyday! Those who have made their mark on this county extend beyond two hand fulls of names that are often mentioned during Black History Month, e.g. Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, and Frederick Douglas. My other reason for creating this and similar posts is to remind my friends and colleagues of all hues that the American experience was created by more people than those cited in school text books. The person that I have selected to highlight in this post is Howard P. Grant, civil engineer, and a man of many firsts!
If you are 50+ years of age, you may have heard of Howard P. Grant. During his career, he became known for many firsts in the State of California, most notably, he was the first black student to graduate from the University of California at Berkeley’s (UC-Berkeley) College of Engineering. Grant was born in Houston, Texas in 1925. As of this writing, I was unable to find additional information about his early years other than as a young boy, he moved to Los Angeles with his family. After high school, Grant spent two years studying at UC-Los Angeles before transferring to UC-Berkeley. After serving in the Air Force, he returned to UC-Berkeley to complete his engineering degree. He received his bachelor of science in civil engineering in 1948. [Refs 1, 2]
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Grant was the first known black member of their organization. He went on to work as a civil engineer for the City and County of San Francisco in the Water Department. Once again, Grant would set precedence as the first African-American civil engineer for the City and County of San Francisco and the second African-American civil engineer to be licensed by the State of California. He worked in the San Francisco Water Department until 1984, and also held the position of president and treasurer of the California Society of Professional Engineers.
In addition to his engineering contributions, he also helped pave the way for young black engineers. According to UC-Berkeley, in 1970 Grant’s friend and colleague, Frederick E. Jordan, requested that Grant host the first meeting of Northern California’s black engineers at his home. Of the 19 engineers Jordan identified in the region, 17 attended this inaugural meeting. This would be the first meeting of the Northern California Council of Black Professional Engineers (NCCBPE), a group which is dedicated to advancing the engineering careers of African American and black youth as well as educating the public about science and engineering. He served as NCCBPE president from 1970 to 1973.
Grant also was involved in other organizations to help youth, the underprivileged, and historically underrepresented groups. He was a founding member of the Engineering Societies Committee for Manpower Training and served as a board member for Big Brothers, Hunter’s Point Boy’s Club, and the San Francisco Urban League’s scholarship committee. [Ref 3]
Most people who knew Howard Grant would tell you that he was a dedicated civil engineer and that he had a desire to help others advance in engineering and the sciences. He was not only known as a respected civil engineer, but also hailed as an “inspiration and mentor” to minorities throughout California and the entire country.
UC-Berkeley calls Grant an “engineering icon” and says his legacy was summarized by the words written by Grant’s friend, Frederick Jordan, after Grant’s death in 1997 [Ref 1]: “Howard Grant was a life success despite the odds, with a passion for doing what he could for his community.”
- Engineer from History: Howard P. Grant, May 16, 2014, Civil and Structural Engineering Magazine, https://csengineermag.com/article/engineer-from-history-howard-p-grant/
- Celebrating Bay Area Black Engineers, by Lauren Farrar for KQED Science, February 22, 2016, https://ww2.kqed.org/quest/2016/02/22/celebrating-bay-area-black-engineers/
- American Society of Civil Engineers, Feature: Black History Month, http://www.asce.org/black-history-month/