The sculpture of the “Three Pioneers,” standing in the shadow of Tech Tower in Harrison Square is a poignant reminder of the Institute’s history with integration and race relations.
On Sep. 27, 1961, three black students attended classes at the Institute, making Tech the first higher education institution to integrate in the Deep South. Peaceful integration without a court order was unprecedented at the time; black students were often met with violence, and civil unrest ensued throughout college campuses across the South.
In recognition of their roles as trailblazers and pioneers, Tech’s first black students, Ford Greene, Ralph Long Jr. and late Lawrence Williams, along with the first black graduate, Ronald Yancey, have been named as the recipients of the 2022 Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage.
The Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage was established in 2010 in honor of beloved Tech alumnus and former Atlanta mayor, Ivan Allen Jr.
The award’s foundation is rooted in the rhetoric surrounding Tech’s core principle: bettering the human condition through progress and service.
Much like Mayor Allen, recipients of the award have dedicated their lives to supporting a moral principle, despite risks to their careers and lives.
Alongside the accolade of the prestigious award, an on-campus event is held to commemorate the recipients’ work, and recipients are provided with a $100,000 stipend from the Wilbur and Helda Glenn Family Foundation. While nominations for the award are received from around the world, a nominating committee examines each of the candidates, prior to Georgia Tech President, Ángel Cabrera, choosing the final winner.
This year’s recipients were also honored at the 2019 11th Annual Diversity Symposium dedicated to “Georgia Tech’s Racial Diversity Journey: Recognizing Our Past, Acknowledging Our Present, and Charting Our Future.”
At the symposium, Greene, Long Jr., Williams and Yancey discussed the integration of the Institute, the former students’ personal experiences and the continued struggle for racial equity and inclusion at higher education institutes across the nation. The symposium event also presented the alums with bronze sculptures to enshrine their courage and service towards the cause of racial equity.
In the panel, the four former students recounted their experiences with racism, even though a facade of peaceful integration was present. Despite feeling socially and intellectually isolated from a majority of the student body, the pioneers embodied the essence of social courage during their time at Tech.
Previous recipients of the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage include Chief Medical Advisor to the President Dr. Anthony Fauci, late Georgia Congressman of the U.S. House of Representatives John Lewis, and former U.S. President and Tech alumnus Jimmy Carter, to name a few. While it is a bit unconventional for the nomination committee and Tech President to award the prize to a student of the Institute, it is a timely decision marking 60 years of Black student matriculation at Tech.
The Institute recognizes that its diversity is its strength. Ford Greene, Ralph Long Jr., late Lawrence Williams and Ronald Yancey made great strides during their time at Tech, and their social courage is reflected in the campus atmosphere to this day. Their contributions have paved the way for generations of Black Yellow Jackets.
The award symposium honoring the four pioneers will be held on Apr. 20, 2022 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Biltmore Ballroom in Tech Square.