Historic Graduate Presents Diploma to Granddaughter 

On a June day in 1965, Ronald Yancey became the first African American to graduate from the Georgia Institute of Technology (commonly known as Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, Georgia. Yancey returned to the 2024 Georgia Tech graduation ceremony to present his granddaughter, Deanna Yancey, with her diploma. Both earned degrees in electrical engineering.  

A view of downtown Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta, Georgia is the home of the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Deanna earned a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering at Georgia Tech. She received her undergraduate degree in 2020 from Penn State. She completed her master’s degree while working at Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense technology company. 

Deanna Yancey represents a minority of today’s electrical engineers. According to a 2023 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 11.6 percent of working electrical engineers in the United States. African Americans make up 7.7 percent of working electrical engineers. 

Confronting Racism on College Campuses 

Deanna did not, however, contend with the systemic racial discrimination Ronald Yancey faced in the 1960s. The Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling in 1954 decided that segregated public schools were “inherently unequal.” Still, many schools in the South were slow to integrate African American students. Many colleges remained racially segregated into the 1960s.  

According to the school’s website, in 1961 Georgia Tech was the first university in the Deep South to admit African Americans without a court order. Court ordered integration was issued at several universities in the early 1960s. Examples include the University of Georgia, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Alabama.  

Yancey’s Struggle for Admission 

Yancey displayed great determination in getting into Georgia Tech. His admission to the school was rejected twice in 1960. He attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, a historically black college. Morehouse did not have an engineering program, however, so Yancey again applied to Georgia Tech in 1961. His application was rejected, and he continued to study at Morehouse.  

He applied to Georgia Tech once again in 1962. This time he was accepted after completing additional testing and classes to prove his qualifications. Once admitted to Georgia Tech, he faced further challenges. He was often socially excluded by other students. He continued to receive additional academic assignments and examinations to prove his eligibility.  

Persistence Paid Off 

Ronald Yancey’s persistence paid off. In 1965 he became the school’s first African American graduate. In 2019 Georgia Tech memorialized his achievement with a statue entitled The First Graduate. And in the first week of May 2024, the man was honored with a statue on the Georgia Tech campus presented his graduating granddaughter with her diploma. 

Dig Deeper Research the desegregation of other southern universities at the time, such as the University of Georgia (1961), the University of Mississippi (1962), or the University of Alabama (1963). Compare and contrast the events to Ronald Yancey’s experience at the Georgia Institute of Technology.