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Harriett G. Jenkins

Harriet Elizabeth Jenkins was born on July 26, 1926 in Forth Worth, Texas. She and her sister were raised by an aunt and uncle after the death of both her parents before she was ten years old. At he age of fourteen, in 1941, she graduated from I.M. Terrill High School and received a full scholarship to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.

She attended Fisk from 1941 until 1945, where she earned her bachelor's of arts degree in mathematics. In 1945, she left Nashville and joined her sister in California, where she worked in a clerical position at Pacific Overseas Air Service Command until 1948.

There, Jenkins worked as a writer for Golden State Insurance Company and an Identification clerk for the Oakland Police Department from 1948 until 1954. Leaving there, she began her teaching career in the Berkeley, California school system. She quickly rose through the ranks, serving as the city's first Black female vice-principal. In 1957, she earned her master's degree in education from the University of California at Berkeley. She went on to become a school principal, director of elementary education and assistant superintendent of schools. In 1974, Jenkins left Berkeley and moved to Washington, D.C. to be with her husband.

From 1974 until 1992, Jenkins worked as the assistant administrator for equal opportunity programs at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). During her nearly twenty-year tenure at NASA, she was responsible for implementing several programs that assisted minorities and women, including recruiting some of the agency's first African American astronauts. Her efforts extended beyond the astronaut program and included providing more opportunities for minorities in NASA's procurement contracts and research efforts. Under her leadership, university research centers were started and supported in Historically Black Colleges. In 1984, she earned her law degree from Georgetown University.

From 1992 until 1996, she worked with the U.S. Congress and served as the director at the Office of Senate Fair Employment Practices in the U.S. Senate. Her duties included ensuring the requirements of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 were administered for all Senate employees and the Capitol Police. Jenkins also assisted Senate staffs in implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

Jenkins retired from the federal government in 1996. In 2000, NASA established a fellowship program in her name, awarding doctoral fellowships to qualifying minority students. She was the recipient of numerous awards and honors including placing her retirement in the Congressional Record.

Jenkins passed away on December 21, 2016.

Accession Number

A2004.126

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/12/2004

Last Name

Jenkins

Maker Category
Middle Name

G.

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

I. M. Terrell High School

Fisk University

Georgetown University

First Name

Harriett

Birth City, State, Country

Fort Worth

HM ID

JEN03

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Mazatlan, Mexico

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

7/26/1926

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Salad (Caesar)

Death Date

12/21/2016

Short Description

Research manager Harriett G. Jenkins (1926 - 2016 ) served as the assistant administrator for equal opportunity programs at NASA, where she was responsible for implementing programs that assisted minorities, including recruiting some of the agency's first black astronauts. She was also appointed as the director of the Office of Senate Fair Employment Practices in the U.S. Senate.

Employment

Pacific Overseas Air Tactical Command

Golden State Insurance Company

Oakland Police Department

Berkeley Unified School District

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Office of Senate Fair Employment Practices

Favorite Color

Teal

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Harriett G. Jenkins's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Harriett G. Jenkins lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Harriett G. Jenkins talks about her parents

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Harriett G. Jenkins talks about being raised by her maternal uncle and aunt

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Harriett G. Jenkins describes her older siblings and her family ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Harriett G. Jenkins describes her earliest memory

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Harriett G. Jenkins shares significant memories from her childhood in Fort Worth, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Harriett G. Jenkins talks about her childhood neighborhood in Fort Worth, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Harriett G. Jenkins describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Harriett G. Jenkins describes her experiences in public school in Fort Worth, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Harriett G. Jenkins talks about graduating from I.M. Terrell High School in Fort Worth, Texas at age fourteen

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Harriett G. Jenkins describes her experiences at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Harriett G. Jenkins describes her academic pursuits at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Harriett G. Jenkins recalls her first jobs in California after graduating from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Harriett G. Jenkins describes living in California in the 1940s and 1950s

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Harriett G. Jenkins talks about opportunities for African Americans in California during the 1950s

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Harriett G. Jenkins talks about her early career in education at Berkeley Unified School District in Berkeley, California

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Harriett G. Jenkins describes her experiences as principal of Emerson Elementary School in Berkeley, California

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Harriett G. Jenkins talks about supervising special education programs as principal of Emerson Elementary School in Berkeley

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Harriett G. Jenkins describes the desegregation of Berkeley Unified School District in the 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Harriett G. Jenkins reflects on the impact of desegregating Berkeley Unified School District

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Harriett G. Jenkins talks about her decision to leave Berkeley, California in 1973

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Harriett G. Jenkins describes the events that led her to be hired by NASA

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Harriett G. Jenkins talks about efforts to hire more women, minorities and individuals with disabilities at NASA

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Harriett G. Jenkins talks about NASA bringing African Americans into its astronaut corps

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Harriett G. Jenkins describes how efforts to increase diversity evolved while she was employed at NASA

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Harriett G. Jenkins talks about developing programs to hire more minorities at NASA in research and development

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Harriett G. Jenkins describes the fellowship program that NASA developed in her honor

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Harriett G. Jenkins talks about heading the Office of Fair Employment Practices at the U.S. Senate

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Harriett G. Jenkins describes her involvement with the Montgomery County Commission on Human Rights

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Harriett G. Jenkins talks about her thoughts on affirmative action and diversity in American society

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Harriett G. Jenkins describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Harriett G. Jenkins reflects upon her life

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Harriett G. Jenkins describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Harriett G. Jenkins reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Harriett G. Jenkins talks about why she believes history is important

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Harriett G. Jenkins narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Harriett G. Jenkins narrates her photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Harriett G. Jenkins narrates her photographs, pt. 3

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$3

DAStory

1$5

DATitle
Harriett G. Jenkins talks about supervising special education programs as principal of Emerson Elementary School in Berkeley
Harriett G. Jenkins describes the events that led her to be hired by NASA
Transcript
There always been questions about whether you should have a special education class for kids who are either mentally retarded or have limitations, or have some sort of physical disabilities so that they cannot learn the way other youngsters can learn. And so they, the issues get to be should they be in a class all by themselves, or should you integrate them into the regular class and then have the ability to be able to pull them out of that class when you need to work with the specific skills they need. And so at Emerson [Elementary School, Berkeley, California] and I'm sure that was true at other schools as well, we had the youngsters integrated into their regular classrooms, but they also had a room that was the special education room. And Phil Hatlen worked with them and there might have been a youngster who was limited by sight, might have been blind, or might have been crippled, or might have been autistic, or might have had limited mental capacity. But, Phil could work with them individually and he could pull them from their classes, as they needed to be pulled during the classroom day. The rest of the time they were learning how to get along with other children. And I remember one time walking into a classroom and the blind youngsters knew their way around the building, so they would come down the hallway, sometimes touching it to get to their classroom and they'd walk into class, and as they would walk into class sometimes they would bump into the seat of a student. I remember one day a student is writing his paper and he just takes his hand and just shares, and shoves the kid a little bit around his chair to help guide him so he can get to his seat in the room without stopping a beat of what he's doing on, at his desk and doing his work, and I thought it was just a wonderful picture of how well integrated and how accepting the regular kids were of those youngsters with the special needs.$$Now, was the same thing taking place for black students in special education?$$I assume so, yes. I assume so, because once we decided to go with that model and to even distinguish between those who were trainable and those who could get full academic load and work, but you just needed to make other variations. At that time we didn't have all of the technology we now have, so that you can use readers for instance, or large print. They were using braille, braille books for the most part for the blind students that we had at Emerson.$So were you thinking you would still pursue education when you came to Washington, D.C. (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Absolutely, and submitted my application to Prince George's County [Maryland] and Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County [Maryland]--$$This was in the early '70s [1970s]?$$This was in 1973 to be exact, Montgomery County. I got no takers and I, everybody had told me when I had left Berkeley [California], "You won't have any trouble, you'll be snapped up right away. You'll get a job, don't worry, don't worry." Well anyway, I was not offered a job, but I had applied for those three places including the county in which I now reside, and I remember having talked to the assistant superintendent, Dr. [J. Edward] Andrews, here in Montgomery County. And I was also being interviewed by a federal agency, the Commission on Education [U.S. Department of Education] and they were considering me for the director of the Teacher Corps Program and the--one of their top persons, who had helped us in the Berkeley [Unified School District] schools actually was managing a program for the aged and adult education. He was outstanding. He lost his federal funding and so, although I had had an interview where they told me they wanted me and when they invited me back to the second interview, it was to tell me regretfully that they had to put this other person in the position and that they were very, very sorry. So after I finished that interview, I went to Bill's [ph.] office and said to him, "You took my job. You have to help me find a job." And he good heartedly said, "Okay." And that day home in his ride group, he told his friend about this person whose job he had taken (laughter) and I was called by a Dr. Dudley McConnell of NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration], interviewed, and he told the administrator of NASA that he would like to hire me as his deputy assistant administrator for equal opportunity programs. I got a call on February 14th from Dr. James [C.] Fletcher of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration who offered me the job, and I said yes. I had been looking for three or four months and had even served in a kind of consultancy way with an educational company that was working in the Washington, D.C. schools on the Right to Read Project. And so I told him, yes, I would take the job. And the very next day Dr. Andrews from Montgomery County called and offered me the assistant superintendency (laughter) in Montgomery County. That's how close I came to getting a job or staying in education.$$But was the NASA job a little bit more appealing because it was not in that traditional educational realm?$$In all honesty I can't say that was my rationale. That was the job I was offered and I was looking for a job and had been so close and hadn't gotten the other. So I took the job at NASA. I figured it was related to what I had been doing because we certainly had been working in civil rights and integration and integration of systems and organizations in Berkeley and had actually done it in the public school system.