George Warren Reed (1920-2015) was a chemist at the Chicago Met Lab during World War II. He primarily researched fission yields of uranium and thorium to determine their viability for a nuclear chain reaction. Reed was one of the few African American scientists to work on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Reed talks with his son Mark Morrison-Reed about family life, sabbatical, the riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., work on the Manhattan Project, retirement, and his positions at Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory.
Collene Dunbar first arrived the Tri-Cities in 1950. She spent her childhood there while her father worked in construction at the Hanford Site. In this interview, she recalls her experiences growing up, and describes local perceptions of Hanford. She details discrimination faced by African Americans, local agriculture, and how the area has changed over the years. Dunbar also recounts her time working in construction and maintenance in the 200 East Area at Hanford, and shares her impressions of how secrecy and security were maintained at the site.
Carol Roberts moved to Hanford with her family in 1944 after her father was hired by DuPont to work as an electrician on the B Reactor. In this interview, she vividly describes life in Richland during the Manhattan Project. Roberts mentions local segregation, dust storms, the housing, social opportunities, and the challenges women faced in raising a family. Roberts champions the role of women in local history, including Leona Marshall Libby’s work on the B Reactor. She also details the founding of the local hospital and library, and recounts the takeoff of the “Day’s Pay,” the bomber funded by Hanford workers as part of their contributions to the war effort.
Jackie Peterson is an independent curator and exhibit developer in Seattle, Washington. She curated an exhibition called “The Atomic Frontier: Black Life at Hanford” at the Northwest African American Museum from October 2015-March 2016. In this interview, Peterson describes the exhibition and what she learned about African American experiences at Hanford during the Manhattan Project. She explains how African Americans came to the Tri-Cities, the kinds of work they were able to obtain, and the (largely informal) segregation they faced. She also contrasts how African Americans and Japanese Americans were treated by the federal government during World War II.
Eric Pierce is a senior scientist and leader of the Earth Sciences Group in the Environmental Sciences Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Born in New Orleans, Pierce has a Ph.D in low-temperature geochemistry from Tulane University. In this interview, Pierce describes some of the work of his team at Oak Ridge, including how contaminants and energy production byproducts such as mercury move through the environment. He provides an overview of the important mercury research and discoveries scientists have made at ORNL, and speaks to the collaborative and dynamic nature of ORNL as a workplace.
CJ Mitchell grew up in northeastern Texas. In this interview, he describes moving to Hanford after graduating from high school in 1947. Only sixteen years old, Mitchell took a job working on the trailer park in North Richland, and worked on other construction projects. At first, he lived in a tent with his relatives in East Pasco. He eventually studied at Columbia Basin College and got a job at one of General Electric’s Hanford laboratories as an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) specialist. He describes the racism he encountered in the Tri-Cities area and how segregation and the Great Migration impacted him and his family. Mitchell, an avid sports enthusiast and coach, was also famous in the Northwest for his work as a sports official.
Ronald E. Mickens is a physicist who currently teaches at Clark Atlanta University. He is a prominent voice in the African-American scientific community, and has written several works documenting the feats of previous black physicists. He was friendly with several African-American scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, including J. Ernest Wilkins, and describes their careers and the racism they faced. Mickens also discusses his own career, the importance of curiosity to scientific research, and the challenges African-American scientists have had to overcome to pursue their research.
Valeria Steele Roberson is the granddaughter of Kattie Strickland, an African American who moved to Oak Ridge from Alabama with her husband to work on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Roberson discusses her family’s experience at Oak Ridge. Roberson comments on how Oak Ridge presented African Americans with higher-paying jobs and an opportunity for a better future with the prospect of social and economic advancement, despite pervasive segregation, discrimination, and continued inequality. She tells of how the African American community viewed themselves as equal citizens and wanted to contribute to the war effort. Roberson situates this discussion within the broader context of ongoing wartime politics in the United States. Roberson also discusses housing accommodations for African Americans, recreational activities, and the day-to-day life of residents at Oak Ridge.
Kattie Strickland left her three children in Alabama when she began working in the secret city of Oak Ridge for the Manhattan Project. Strickland was part of the janitorial staff at Oak Ridge. Unlike the white women whom she worked along side, Ms. Strickland was prohibited from sharing living quarters with her husband, who also worked on the project. In this interview, Strickland discusses the bad food at the mess hall and the special biscuit pan her husband made in the machine shop.
Willie Daniels came to Hanford from Texas by way of Oklahoma, where he worked at a naval air station. He was one of thousands of African Americans who left low paying jobs at home for high pay at wartime Hanford. Like many others, he came for the good pay. He and his brother made $19.20 on their first day of work, more than his brother made in one month on the railroad. Daniels worked mostly pouring concrete and performing manual labor; he poured concrete for all the reactors in the 100 area. In this interview, Daniels recalls Hanford social life, working conditions, and race relations.