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Col. James Stith

Physicist and Retired U.S. Army Colonel James Stith was born on July 17, 1941, to Ruth Stith in Brunswick County, Virginia. Stith had three step-sisters—Wilma, Aldrena, and Joyce—and one half-sister, Juanita. Stith attended Oak Grove Elementary School and he graduated from James Solomon Russell High School in 1959. It was in high school that Stith decided he wanted to pursue a career in physics.

Stith went on to graduate from Virginia State College to earn his B.S. and M.S. degrees, both in physics, in the years 1963 and 1965, respectively. During his time at Virginia State College, Stith joined the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and worked as an instructor. In 1965, he was called to active duty in the U.S. Army for two years. Then, after a two-year term working with the Radio Corporation of America, Stith continued his education at Pennsylvania State University, where he earned his D.Ed. degree in physics in 1972. Following his graduation, Stith was recalled to active duty, and so he joined the faculty at the United States Military Academy at West Point. In 1976, Stith became the first tenured African American professor at the United States Military Academy, where he continued to work until he retired from his post in 1993. Stith retired from the United States Military Academy as a full professor of physics and from the military at the grade of Colonel. Stith then worked as a full professor of physics at Ohio State University until 1998. Following his time at Ohio State University, Stith was hired as the vice president of the Physics Resource Center of the American Institute of Physics, a position he would hold for ten years. Stith also served on the board of the Triangle Coalition from 1999 to 2006, and he joined the advisory board for Project Kaleidoscope in 1990. Additionally, Stith has served on several advisory committees of the National Research Council throughout his career.

Stith has played an important role in increasing the role of African Americans in the physical sciences and has been recognized by the Academy for his work. In 1990, he was elected Vice President of the American Association of Physics Teachers, and in 2004 he was recognized as one of the “50 Most Important Blacks in Research Science.”

Stith is married to Alberta Hill, and they have three adult daughters: Adrienne Yvette, Andrea Lynn, and Alyssa Joy.

James Stith was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 14, 2010.

Accession Number

A2010.083

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/14/2010

Last Name

Stith

Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

H.

Schools

Oak Grove Elementary School

James Solomon Russell Middle School

Virginia State University

Pennsylvania State University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

James

Birth City, State, Country

Alberta

HM ID

STI04

Favorite Season

Spring

Sponsor

National Science Foundation

State

Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Cruises

Favorite Quote

Bad News Doesn't Get Better With Age.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

7/17/1941

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken

Short Description

Physicist, academic administrator, and colonel (ret.) Col. James Stith (1941 - ) was the first tenured black professor at the United States Military Academy in 1976, and served as the vice president of the Physics Resources Center at the American Institute of Physics from 1998 to 2008.

Employment

American Institute of Physics

Ohio State University, Department of Physics

United States Military Academy

Radio Corporation of America

University of Maryland, Far East Division

United States Army

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color

Blue, Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Col. James Stith's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Col. James Stith shares his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Col. James Stith shares his mother's family history

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Col. James Stith describes his mother's extended family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Col. James Stith describes his family's farm

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Col. James Stith describes the lack of a father figure in his life

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Col. James Stith describes his relationship with his stepsisters

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Col. James Stith recalls his maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Col. James Stith reflects on his mother's personality

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Col. James Stith recalls the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Col. James Stith describes his childhood home and chores

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Col. James Stith discusses the Reformed Zion Union Apostolic Church

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Col. James Stith describes his inquisitive nature as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Col. James Stith talks about his elementary school, part 1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Col. James Stith talks about his elementary school, part 2

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Col. James Stith describes his love for reading

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Col. James Stith remembers taking apart his family's clock

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Col. James Stith discusses the lack of exposure to science as a youth

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Col. James Stith recalls the effect of segregation in Brunswick County, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Col. James Stith describes James Solomon Russell High School

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Col. James Stith describes his high school experience

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Col. James Stith remembers his uncle, Theodore Stith

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Col. James Stith describes his transition into high school

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Col. James Stith recalls his high school physics teacher

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Col. James Stith recalls his teacher's advice to attend Virginia State College

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Col. James Stith recalls his college transition

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Col. James Stith describes his college professors and pledging for Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity at Virginia State College

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Col. James Stith discusses the presidential election of 1960

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Col. James Stith recalls the loss of his family home and half-sister

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Col. James Stith describes his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Col. James Stith discusses his graduate studies at Virginia State College

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Col. James Stith describes his teaching experiences after college

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Col. James Stith talks about his military service in Korea

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Col. James Stith talks about his military service in Seattle, Washington

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Col. James Stith describes his transition from the United States Army to civilian work and graduate studies

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Col. James Stith describes his graduate studies at Pennsylvania State University

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Col. James Stith describes his graduate dissertation

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Col. James Stith discusses his relationship with his graduate advisor, David Rank

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Col. James Stith talks about his search for a job after receiving his D.Ed. degree

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Col. James Stith describes minority population at the United States Military Academy in the 1970s

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Col. James Stith discusses the United States Military Academy's support of minorities

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Col. James Stith describes the "Black Officers at West Point"

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Col. James Stith describes how he became tenured at the United States Military Academy

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Col. James Stith discusses the transition of the United States Military Academy to a co-educational institution

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Col. James Stith recalls his time at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Col. James Stith remembers his interactions with Daniel "Chappie" James

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Col. James Stith recalls his decision to leave the United States Military Academy

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Col. James Stith describes his involvement with the American Association of Physics Teachers

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Col. James Stith describes the growing interest and concerns in physics education

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Col. James Stith discusses his work with The American Institute of Physics

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Col. James Stith recalls his time in Columbus, Ohio

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Col. James Stith describes his philosophy for physics education

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Col. James Stith discusses his hopes and concerns for the black community in physics education, part 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Col. James Stith discusses his hopes and concerns for the black community in physics education, part 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Col. James Stith discusses the founding of the National Society of Black Physicists

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Col. James Stith reminisces over his life decisions

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Col. James Stith shares his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Col. James Stith reflects on his personal legacy in physics education

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Col. James Stith describes his family

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Col. James Stith reflects on his regrets and how he wants to be remembered

DASession

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DAStory

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DATitle
Col. James Stith describes how he became tenured at the United States Military Academy
Col. James Stith discusses his work with The American Institute of Physics
Transcript
Well, was it difficult to get tenured?$$Well--(pause) Well, put it this way, I was invited to dinner at this superintendent's house one night, and I went to dinner, and military protocol says when a general invites you to dinner, you arrive in a window of five minutes before or five minutes after. And so, at the appointed hour, I stepped on this general's porch and I looked around and there was no else coming. And my invitation said this was for cadets and other officers. And I was on time, right night, but no one else was coming. And so, I was a little bit, you know. Then I said, "What's going on?" I rang the doorbell and the sup's aide comes in and says, "Captain Stith [HistoryMaker Col. James Stith], the general has been waiting for you." I go into the living room, and General Beringer [ph.] is standing by his fireplace, and we talked for forty-five minutes, and then people started arriving. I got home that night and my wife [Alberta Hill] said, "Well, how was it?" And I said, "I was interviewed for something. I don't know what." So about two weeks later, my boss called me in and said, "The academy would like to offer you a permanent position at West Point [United States Military Academy, West Point, New York], and if it is offered would you accept?" And then we started that process.$$Okay. Okay.$$So then I became a tenured professor at West Point.$$Now, how long did--$$This was 1976.$$1976. Okay.$$So I had been there--this was my fourth year there, and I was a Captain, which was--it was highly unusual for a--because typically they were lieutenant colonels.$$Okay. We have to pause here.$$Okay.$$That's interesting.$So, now, when we shot the photos, the pictures with you Stephen Hawking--$$Yes.$$--and other people, I guess that's in the capacity of head of the--$$Of, of the American Institute of Physics. Not the head, but as the vice president for resources at the American Institute of Physics.$$Okay.$$And I had--I was responsible for all of the--well, all of the educational programs; the Center for the History of Physics, where we archived the history of the physics community; the research--the Statistical Research Group, where we collected the statistics on the physics community, how many Ph.D.s do we offer every year, how many B.S.s, how many master's [degrees], what were the annual salaries. Any, you know, all those kinds of things. So, the media and government relations, we did the lobbying that non-profits were allowed to do. And we tried to make known to the lay public and to all folks out there what was going on in physics. So we interacted with Congress. We interacted with--I mean, I started producing three, ninety-second TV clips a week that we sold to TV stations to try to get a steady dose of good peer-reviewed science on local TV And we ended up a hundred stations across the nation, with a 60 million audience reach with that effort. So those were the things that I did. And people would give us money to give prizes, and we would select people who were the--who had done the most to advance the science, and that's what Stephen Hawking got his award for. Yeah.$$I would guess in the last--this is a layman watching this and, you know, tuning into public radio and TV every now and then, more than any other time there's more physics education going on-$$Yes.$$--than, you know, from Carl Sagan--$$Yes.$$--to Stephen Hawkings--$$Yes.$$--to now Neil deGrasse Tyson (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) To Neil deGrasse Tyson.$$Tyson, he's a media superstar now, you know.$$Right, yes.$$Talking about physics.$$And so, people are beginning to think about that. And so, we're making an effort. We still have a lot of work to do, but that's what they're working on.