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Willie Pearson, Jr.

Sociologist Willie Pearson, Jr. was born on June 29, 1945 in Rusk, Texas. In 1968, Pearson graduated with honors from Wiley College with his B.A. degree in Sociology. Three years later, Pearson earned his M.A. degree in sociology (Presidential Scholarship) from Atlanta University. He received his Ph.D. degree in sociology in 1981 from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

After graduating from college, Pearson moved to Kansas City, Missouri where he worked as a benefits claims examiner at the Department of Health Education and Welfare and as an administrative and legal specialist for the United States Army. In 1972, Pearson was hired as an assistant professor in the sociology and anthropology departments at Grambling State University where he was named an outstanding teacher. Pearson moved to North Carolina where he worked as an assistant professor at Wake Forest University in 1980 while completing his dissertation. In 1985, Pearson completed his first book, Black Scientists, White Society and Colorless Science: A Study of Universalism in American Science. In 1988, Pearson was awarded a Congressional Fellowship from the Office of Technology Assessment, Congress and received tenure at Wake Forest University. In 2001, Pearson joined the faculty at Georgia Institute of Technology as a sociology professor and chair of the School of History, Technology and Society. During the same year, Pearson was named a National Associate (life-time appointment) of the National Academy of Sciences.

Most of Pearson's research has centered around the U.S. scientific and engineering workforce and on broadening participation of underrepresented groups in science and engineering. In addition to having published numerous articles in newspapers and academic journals, Pearson has authored and co-authored seven books and monographs, including Blacks, Education and American Science , Who Will Do Science?: Educating the Next Generation, The Role and Activities of American Graduate Schools in Recruiting, Enrolling and Retaining United States Black and Hispanic Students, and Beyond Small Numbers: Voices of African American Ph.D. Chemists. Pearson has served on numerous committees, advisory boards and panels at the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, American Sociological Association and many more. He has a love of teaching, research and community service and he has mentored numerous undergraduate and graduate students throughout his career. Pearson has been the recipient of numerous awards including the Schoonmaker Faculty Prize for Community Service from the Wake Forest University Alumni Council and the Distinguished Lecturer award from Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.

Willie Pearson, Jr. was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 13, 2011.

Accession Number

A2011.014

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

4/13/2011

Last Name

Pearson

Schools

Wiley College

Clark Atlanta University

Southern Illinois University

Emmett J. Scott High School

W.A. Peete Elementary School

Archival Photo 2
First Name

Willie

Birth City, State, Country

Rusk

HM ID

PEA01

Favorite Season

Winter

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Birth Date

6/29/1945

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Sociologist and sociology professor Willie Pearson, Jr. (1945 - ) was a sociologist whose research centered on the U.S. scientific and engineering workforce and increasing the participation of underrepresented groups in science and engineering.

Employment

Louisiana Tech University

Southern Illinois University

University of Central Arkansas, Conway

Wake Forest University

Georgia Institute of Technology

Grambling State University

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Willie Pearson, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Willie Pearson, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about his mother's roots in Texas, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about his mother's roots in Texas, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his maternal family's landownership

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the African American community in East Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Willie Person, Jr. remembers his relationship with his father

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Willie Pearson, Jr. reflects upon the lack of knowledge about his family background

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about his parents' divorce

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls the African American communities in Tyler, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes the Juneteenth celebrations in Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls exploring his neighborhood as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his early religious experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his activities at the Bethlehem First Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls his experiences at W.A. Peete Elementary School in Tyler, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Willie Pearson, Jr. remembers his favorite elementary school teachers, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Willie Pearson, Jr. remembers his favorite elementary school teachers, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls the sports teams at W.A. Peete Intermediate School in Tyler, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Willie Pearson, Jr. remembers his teachers at Emmett J. Scott High School in Tyler, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls playing sports at Emmett J. Scott High School

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about his early understanding of gender roles

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his early curiosity about the social sciences

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Willie Pearson, Jr. remembers questioning religion

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his athletic experiences at Emmett J. Scott Elementary School in Tyler, Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the professional athletes from Tyler, Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his high school extracurricular activities

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls his decision to attend Wiley College in Marshall, Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the prominent alumni of Wiley College, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his first impressions of Wiley College

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Willie Pearson, Jr. remembers the diverse faculty at Wiley College

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his coursework at Wiley College

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the prominent alumni of Wiley College, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Willie Pearson, Jr. remembers the civil rights activities at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the connection between Wiley College and northern educational institutions

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the ideologies of Malcolm X and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes the benefits of a liberal arts education

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls organizing a protest after Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls graduating from Wiley College

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Willie Pearson, Jr. remembers being drafted into the U.S. Army

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls his sports activities in the U.S. Army

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his experiences in the U.S. military

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls the lack of black faculty at Atlanta University

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Willie Pearson, Jr. remembers the prominent figures at the Atlanta University Center

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes the sociology curriculum at Atlanta University

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about his experiences at Atlanta University

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Willie Pearson, Jr. remembers working for Kelly Spring Tire Company

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls his decision to join the faculty at Grambling College in Grambling, Louisiana

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls marrying his wife

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his teaching experiences at Grambling College in Grambling, Louisiana

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about his accomplishments as a professor at Grambling College

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Willie Pearson, Jr. remembers teaching at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his students at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls his decision to attend Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Willie Pearson, Jr. remembers his decision to focus on the sociology of science

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls his research grant at Southern Illinois University

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Willie Pearson, Jr. remembers being mentored by his doctoral professors, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Willie Pearson, Jr. remembers being mentored by his doctoral professors, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls his aspirations for his career

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the problems faced by professors with multiple departmental appointments

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls his decision to join the faculty of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes how he was evaluated as a professor at Wake Forest University

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Willie Pearson, Jr. remembers the African American professors at Wake Forest University

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the findings of his Ph.D. dissertation, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the findings of his Ph.D. dissertation, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the lack of visibility of African American scientists

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his book, 'Black Scientists, White Society and Colorless Science,' pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his book, 'Black Scientists, White Society and Colorless Science,' pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about science education in the African Americans community

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes the Mid-South Sociological Association

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls serving on the editorial board of Contemporary Sociology

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about his work with the Office of Technology Assessment

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about his work with the National Science Foundation

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his work on Project Mosaic

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about his edited volume, 'Who Will Do Science?'

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno's five city project, pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno's five city project, pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the prevalence of youth violence in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Willie Pearson, Jr. reflects upon the consequences of defunding social programs

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the low retention of black high school students

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about his book, 'The Role and Activities of American Graduate Schools'

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Willie Pearson, Jr. reflects upon the credibility of social science research

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the sociology of education

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Willie Pearson, Jr. reflects upon the public misunderstanding of the social sciences

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about higher education initiatives

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes the repercussions of underperforming schools

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls joining the faculty of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 11 Story: 8 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about his book, 'Beyond Small Numbers'

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about his study of African American chemists, pt. 1

Tape: 12 Story: 2 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about his study of African American chemists, pt. 2

Tape: 12 Story: 3 - Willie Pearson, Jr. recalls his teaching experiences at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 12 Story: 4 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his current research projects

Tape: 12 Story: 5 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about researching his family history

Tape: 12 Story: 6 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his family

Tape: 12 Story: 7 - Willie Pearson, Jr. reflects upon his experiences at the Kelly Springfield Tire Company

Tape: 12 Story: 8 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about his friendships

Tape: 12 Story: 9 - Willie Pearson, Jr. reflects upon his life

Tape: 13 Story: 1 - Willie Pearson, Jr. shares his advice to future scholars

Tape: 13 Story: 2 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the underrepresentation of African Americans in sociology

Tape: 13 Story: 3 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes the importance of mentorship

Tape: 13 Story: 4 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the importance of sociological research

Tape: 13 Story: 5 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his concerns for urban communities

Tape: 13 Story: 6 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the practical utility of sociology

Tape: 13 Story: 7 - Willie Pearson, Jr. reflects upon the benefits of a sociology background

Tape: 13 Story: 8 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about making science accessible to the everyday person

Tape: 14 Story: 1 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the value of quantitative research methods

Tape: 14 Story: 2 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes the challenges faced by social scientists

Tape: 14 Story: 3 - Willie Pearson, Jr. talks about the importance of peer review

Tape: 14 Story: 4 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes the careers of his wife and children

Tape: 14 Story: 5 - Willie Pearson, Jr. describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$7

DAStory

6$5

DATitle
Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his maternal family's landownership
Willie Pearson, Jr. describes his students at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana
Transcript
Did your mother [Odessa Price Pearson] grow up on one of the big holdings of land that--?$$Yes. In the area of Rusk, Texas, Cherokee County and--$$Now, is that Rust or Rusk?$$Rusk, R-U-S-K.$$Okay, all right.$$And, yeah, she grew up there.$$Did she have any stories of growing up that she--$$No, that's what I'm saying. There was never really any--a lot of details. She talked about, you know, like her brothers and sisters and a little bit about her family, but you have to remember that--see, I was born when my mother was around thirty-three. So I was basically a very late child. So, and my sister [Vassie V. King] being like a child, a very gifted child, would have been there for that first fifteen years. So my sister would have known a little bit more, but as I was saying because she was skipped, my sister was not really interested in a lot of historical stuff. So she knew some of the relatives, but my mother only mentioned occasi- if I would ask when I got to be in high school [Emmett J. Scott High School, Tyler, Texas], I would ask question because I knew that the level of education was not very high. But I knew they were very good with finances and kind of economic issues. And then I kind of learned probably later on, much, much later on that being black, you didn't put your resources in one bank or something like that because bad things could happen to them. So I had a better understanding that they were able to live way below their means, but she never spoke of any details, you know, besides she and my sister would go occasionally and sell timber, 'cause both my sister and I went to small, private colleges and that's how tuition and stuff was paid.$$Okay, so they had to consciously sort of live below their means in order to escape the consequences of racism in Texas?$$Yes, yeah, it was, I guess by the time I got to college [Wiley College, Marshall, Texas], I was given kind of control of the estate or resources. And I was just stunned at how much it was in terms of value, but I also came to understand that if they did not, 'cause there was no purchase of cars, no fancy homes, anything like that. But we never had any, took out any loans or anything like that. That's what I'm saying, it was like, it was contradictory in many ways. But as I got older I understood that the consequences of being conspicuous with your resources, that it could have been taken away from you. So in the end, it was very clever, and I think from my mother--'cause my parents were divorced fairly, when I was young, that to see how sophisticated she was with finances. Actually helped me quite a bit. I was, my minor was economics.$So you could imagine, I go over to Louisiana Tech [Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, Louisiana]. It's about 99 percent white. And then I'm going over to Grambling [Grambling College; Grambling State University, Grambling, Louisiana], it's about 98 percent black. So you're going between two worlds. And the resources were very different. I had a grader, of multiple choice kind of stuff, and of course, I graded the essays myself over at Tech; didn't have anything like that until, at Grambling until much later. And so things went extraordinarily well, but because of my own experience I knew that you had talents students at both places. It's just that some of the students at Grambling had more to overcome because of their, the quality of their high school experiences and that I mean it's some fantastic students at Grambling. So I think my second year, we had the club up and running and students were doing placements, to do their research. So they were actually collecting empirical data. Even at the same time, Louisiana Tech didn't have anything like that, but part, if you recall, when I was in undergrad [at Wiley College, Marshall, Texas], see I did a thesis. So I had a research experience as an undergraduate student that would be more typical of a graduate student, that I was passing on to these students. And unlike, probably students at most places in the social sciences, they were going to professional meetings and presenting. That was more typical for students in biology or chemistry that went to all-black scientific meetings. This was not the case. So they learned to write articles for the newsletter, showed them how to design the fundraising activities. So by the end, I was also preparing them to go on to graduate school. So a number of them began to get accepted to graduate schools, primarily in the North. Some went to Smith [Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts], some ended up going to other places, like Texas A&M [Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas], LSU [Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana], some of them went to the Midwest because keep in mind that they didn't have to be sociology majors to be part of the group. And then some of them went into industry. So part of my thinking by letting them know about my industrial experience [at Kelly Springfield Tire Company] and so some might wanna go that avenue. Some might wanna go to others, but at least they would have the skillsets and the tools to know what you might have to overcome because some time you could have the ability but because of certain kind of discriminatory practices that exists around promotion, access to the informal knowledge of the network, you can't let that deter you. You know, that's one thing you had to figure out, okay, if that's the case, what can I do to empower myself so I can still be competitive because eventually, competence, I believe out rules some of the other things.