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John Slaughter

Electrical engineer and academic administrator John brooks Slaughter was born in Topeka, Kansas, on March 16, 1934. His father, Reuben Brooks Slaughter, was hard-working and held a variety of jobs to support his family; and, his mother, Dora Reeves Slaughter, was a homemaker. Slaughter graduated from Topeka High School in 1951 and enrolled at Washburn University, but transferred after two years to attend Kansas State University. There, he earned his B.S. degree in electrical engineering in 1956. Slaughter went on to receive his Ph.D. in engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1961, and his Ph.D. in engineering sciences from the University of California, San Diego in 1971.

Slaughter joined the U.S. Navy Electronics Laboratory in San Diego in 1960. In 1975, he became Director of the Applied Physics Laboratory of the University of Washington; and, in 1977, Slaughter was appointed Assistant Director for Astronomics, Atmospherics, Earth and Ocean Sciences at the National Science Foundation. From 1979 to 1980, Slaughter was Provost and Academic Vice President at Washington State University. The, he serves as the director of the National Science Foundation in Washington D.C. for two years. Between 1982 and 1988, Slaughter was the Chancellor of the University of Maryland, College Park, where he made major advances in e recruitment and retention of African-American students and faculty. Slaughter then was elected President of Occidental College in Los Angeles from 1988 through July 1999. In August 1999, he assumed the position of Melbo Professor of Leadership in Education at the University of Southern California. In June 2000, Slaughter was named President and CEO of The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc.

Slaughter holds honorary degrees from more than 25 institutions of higher education. He was also a recipient of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Award in 1997, and UCLA’s Medal of Excellence in 1989. Slaughter was honored with the first U.S. Black Engineer of the Year award in 1987, and received the Arthur M. Bueche Award from the Nation Academy of Engineering in 2004, where he is also a fellow. Slaughter is married to Dr. Ida Bernice Slaughter, an educational consultant and former school administrator. They have two children: a son, Dr. John Brooks Slaughter, Jr., DVM, and a daughter, Ms. Jacqueline Michelle Slaughter.

John Brooks Slaughter was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 28, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.205

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/28/2012

Last Name

Slaughter

Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Brooks

Schools

University of California, Los Angeles

University of California, San Diego

Kansas State University

Topeka High School

First Name

John

Birth City, State, Country

Topeka

HM ID

SLA02

Favorite Season

Fall, September

State

Kansas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Home

Favorite Quote

Some people would rather have a cause than an effect.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

3/16/1934

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Ribs (Pork Spare)

Short Description

Electrical engineer and education administrator John Slaughter (1934 - ) was the first African American to direct the National Science Foundation and developed computer algorithms for system optimization and discrete signal processing.

Employment

Convair

United States Naval Electronic Laboratory Center

United States Naval Applied Physics Laboratory

University of Washington

Washington State University

National Science Foundation (NSF)

University of Maryland, College Park

Occidental College

University of Southern California

National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc.

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of John Slaughter's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - John Slaughter lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - John Slaughter describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - John Slaughter describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - John Slaughter talks about his father's work in the coal mines

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - John Slaughter talks about his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - John Slaughter talks about his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - John Slaughter describes his childhood home

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - John Slaughter shares his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - John Slaughter describes his childhood neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - John Slaughter describes his experience at Buchanan Elementary School

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - John Slaughter describes his skill with electronics and his desire to become an engineer

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - John Slaughter talks about his extracurricular activities

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - John Slaughter talks about the teachers that influenced him

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - John Slaughter describes his experience of World War II

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - John Slaughter talks about his family and the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - John Slaughter talks about his teacher, Howard Anderson

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - John Slaughter talks about Washburn University

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - John Slaughter describes the impact of his liberal arts education

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - John Slaughter talks about the Kansas State University

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - John Slaughter talks about teachers at Washburn University that influenced him

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - John Slaughter describes his experience with computers at the Kansas State University

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - John Slaughter talks about organizations he joined as an undergraduate

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - John Slaughter talks about the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - John Slaughter talks about his cousin, Lucinda Todd

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - John Slaughter describes his decision to work at General Dynamics

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - John Slaughter talks about the offer to be "the Jackie Robinson of Westinghouse"

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - John Slaughter describnes his work at General Dynamics

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - John Slaughter describes his work with the U.S. Navy Electronic Laboratory

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - John Slaughter talks about his graduate studies and his decision to pursue his Ph.D.

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - John Slaughter describes his doctoral research

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - John Slaughter talks about his work at the University of Washington

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - John Slaughter describes his work with the National Science Foundation

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - John Slaughter describes his work at Washington State University

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - John Slaughter talks about his work to restore funding for science education

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - John Slaughter talks about the difference between science and engineering

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - John Slaughter talks about his time at the University of Maryland

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - John Slaughter talks about the challenges he faced at the University of Maryland (part 1)

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - John Slaughter talks about the challenges he faced at the University of Maryland (part 2)

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - John Slaughter talks about his inspiration and role models

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - John Slaughter describes his work at Occidental College

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - John Slaughter talks about former students of Occidental College

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - John Slaughter describes his work at the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - John Slaughter describes his work at the University of Southern California

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - John Slaughter talks about the Rodney King incident

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - John Slaughter talks about affirmative action

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - John Slaughter describes his current role at the University of Southern California

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - John Slaughter shares his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - John Slaughter reflects on his career

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - John Slaughter talks about his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - John Slaughter talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - John Slaughter tells how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - John Slaughter describes his photos

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

5$1

DATitle
John Slaughter describes his skill with electronics and his desire to become an engineer
John Slaughter talks about his work to restore funding for science education
Transcript
Now you grew up with no television, right?$$That's right.$$And in terms of radio, did you have a radio?$$We had a radio. Like I said, my dad was a used furniture salesman, so he would sometimes get old radios, and we had plenty of them around. And that was important to me, because my dad would go to auction houses and buy things that needed repair. And so he'd buy tables and chairs and things and bring them along and repair them and clean them. And sometimes he'd buy radios. And so, he had a barn out in the backyard for this old furniture that he would buy and fix up. And I started playing with the radios, and then I started fixing some of them, and making them play. And my dad realized that maybe this was a God-send. So, my dad built me in the backyard a little radio shack, a radio shop for me. And my mother bought me test equipment, and I went into the radio repair business. And all the time I was in high school, I had a radio repair business. And I used to advertise that I would fix any radio in Topeka [Kansas] for $4 plus parts. And I paid for a lot of my education through my radio repair business. That was a significant part of my upbringing because I loved to take things apart and see how they worked. And that's what I think led me to become an engineer.$$Now, those are the days I remember when you would go to the store and buy a vacuum tube to test the vacuum tube--$$Yeah.$$--to figure out--$$Yep, I had a vacuum tube tester. I told my mother I needed a vacuum tube tester and we found a used one at a radio store in Topeka. And she couldn't afford it, but she bought it for me. She knew that that was something that I wanted and needed for my radio repair business.$$Okay. How much did it cost? I guess I'm curious now.$$I think it was about $25 at the time.$$That's a lot of money in those days.$$Yeah.$$$25 may have been equivalent to a couple hundred dollars today.$$That's right, exactly. My dad's annual salary during that time was about $2500 a year or so. (laughter). So, you just imagine that $25 was an important part of that one percent.$$Right, right. But you were able to make money with it.$$Yes.$$So, I would guess you would contribute money back into the home, that sort of thing?$$Yes.$$So, it was probably significant income.$$Well, it was $4 plus parts, and I did the best I could. (laughter). But it helped pay for my college education, so my parents didn't have to pay for that as much, certainly for the first two years.$$Okay. Now, did you ever encounter a radio that you couldn't fix and a problem you just couldn't deal with?$$I don't think so. I think there was one car radio that a friend of mine had that I had difficulty and may not have been able to complete, but I became very good at it.$$Okay. So, did you have any kind of consultation with anybody about how to do it, or did you just start to tinker?$$I took a class when I went to high school. I'll back up. When I was in junior high school, our junior high school was integrated. And it was more integrated, actually, in many ways, than the high school. But in junior high school I decided that I wanted to be an engineer. And I'm not absolutely certain how that revelation came, other than the fact that I was curious and I liked, like I said, to take things apart and see how they worked, and build things. So, I would get old copies of 'Popular Mechanics Magazines,' and they always had projects you could build. And I made cameras and I made various electronic devices, and I decided I wanted to be an electrical engineer. And I would tell anybody who was in earshot, that I wanted to be an electronic engineer. People thought I was crazy, because nobody had heard of a--first of all, engineers in Topeka were not anybody other than people who drove the Santa Fe Railroad train, you know. And certainly nobody had ever heard of a black engineer. And you know, here is this kid saying I want to be an engineer. And I don't even think my parents really understood what it was that I was saying I wanted to be. So, I went to high school, and I remember saying to the counselor that I wanted to be an engineer. And what they said, which is not uncommon for black kids at that time was, "You need to go to vocational school." So, I ended up in trade school where I learned about radios.$$Okay. Now, I'm going to go back. These counseling stories, we can begin to make a book out of them.$$I know.$$The same advice.$$Yeah.$$But we're going to go back to--now in high school, in Topeka High School, how were your grades?$$My grades were good. I wasn't perfect, but I had--I graduated--but with excellent grades. I was always a good student.$Alright. So, you were the director of NSF [National Science Foundation] from '80' [1980] to '82' [1982].$$Right.$$And what were some of the issues and duties, well, duties as president at NSF in those days?$$Well, it was a difficult time. And the biggest issue I had was that shortly after I was confirmed, well, shortly before I was confirmed, actually, Jimmy Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan. I was the last Carter appointee to be confirmed by the Senate because they were waiting for Reagan to come on.$$Had you interacted with Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California?$$No. I had not. But I had interacted a lot with members of his transition committee. And I had actually good relations with them, and I think that's the reason that they approved my appointment and I was able to transcend the period from Carter to Reagan. But I wanted to make sure that I, before I moved my family from Pullman, Washington to Washington, D.C. [District of Columbia], I wanted to make certain that I had the support of the new administration before I would go back to Washington to take the job. But it was very clear early on that many of the things that I believed in were not necessarily supported by the new administration. They wanted to eliminate science education, for example, from the budget. As a matter of fact, they did eliminate it. So, the biggest issue I had for the two years I was there was getting it restored. And that occupied a significant part of my time, getting science education restored.$$I guess the philosophy of the administration was that this was something that the public sector ought to fund, science education.$$Yes. Science education and behavioral and social sciences were on the chopping block. And the hardest thing that I had to do was to go to the science education director and about 125 people, and tell them that they had just lost their jobs, because I didn't believe in what the administration was doing. So, with the support of some people in Congress, mainly Ted Kennedy, we were able to get it back on the radar screen in the Congress and ultimately get science education restored, even though the full restoration didn't occur until after I left. But we laid all the groundwork during that time. The other thing that was significant during the time I was director was that we were able to establish engineering as a full directorate at NSF. Up until that time, only the pure sciences had been considered a part of the NSF portfolio, and there had been a long standing desire on the part of the engineering community to be included. And I think the fact that I am an engineer was important, and during the time I was there we were able to get engineering established.