Black History Month 2020: Innovator, Booker Taliaferro Washington

Founder of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now known as Tuskegee University) in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1881, Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856-1915) was an educator, orator, author, and one of the most influential African American leaders of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Washington was committed to improving the lives of African Americans after the Civil War. He advocated economic independence through self-help, hard work, and a practical education. His drive and vision built the historically black college of Tuskegee University into a major African American presence and place of higher learning. The university focused on training African Americans in agricultural pursuits, grew immensely, and became a monument to his life’s work. Through progress at Tuskegee, Washington showed that an oppressed people could advance.

On April 5, 1856, Washington was born into slavery on a plantation in Franklin County, Virginia. His mother, Jane, worked as a cook for plantation owner James Burroughs and his father was an unknown white man from a nearby plantation. At an early age, Washington went to work carrying sacks of grain to the plantation’s mill. With his size, hauling 100-pound sacks was hard work for a small boy, and he was occasionally beaten for not performing his duties satisfactorily. Peering into a schoolhouse near the plantation seeing children his age sitting at desks and reading books was Washington’s first introduction to education. He wanted to do what those children were doing, but he was a slave, and it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write.

After the Civil War, Washington, his siblings, and his mother moved to Malden, West Virginia, where she married freedman Washington Ferguson. Coming from a poor family, nine-year-old Washington went to work in the nearby salt furnaces with his stepfather instead of going to school. Washington’s mother noticed his interest in learning and got him a book from which he learned the alphabet and how to read and write basic words. He was still working at the time, so he got up nearly every morning at 4 a.m. to practice and study before work. It was around this time, Booker took the first name of his stepfather as his last name, Washington.

In 1866, Booker T. Washington got a job as a houseboy for Viola Ruffner, the wife of coal mine owner Lewis Ruffner. Mrs. Ruffner was known for being very strict with her servants, especially boys. Ruffner saw something in Washington — his maturity, intelligence and integrity — and soon warmed up to him. Over the two years he worked for her, she understood his desire for an education and allowed him to go to school for an hour a day during the winter months.

Determined to educate himself, in 1872, Washington left home and traveled 500 miles under great hardship until he arrived – broke, tired, and dirty – at Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute in Virginia. Along the way, he took odd jobs to support himself. He convinced administrators to let him attend the school and took a job as a janitor to help pay his tuition. The school’s founder and headmaster, General Samuel C. Armstrong, soon discovered the hardworking Washington and offered him a scholarship, sponsored by a white man. Armstrong had been a commander of a Union African American regiment during the Civil War and was a strong supporter of providing newly freed slaves with a practical education. Armstrong became Washington’s mentor, strengthening his values of hard work and strong moral character.

Washington graduated from Hampton in 1875 with high marks and taught at his old grade school in Malden, Virginia. In 1879, he was chosen to speak at Hampton’s graduation ceremonies, where afterward General Armstrong offered Washington a job teaching at Hampton. Two years later, in 1881, the Alabama legislature approved $2,000 for a “colored” school, the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. General Armstrong was asked to recommend a white man to run the school but instead recommended Washington. Classes were first held in an old church, while Washington traveled extensively all over the countryside promoting the school and raising money. His achievements at Tuskegee earned him widespread support. An assertive, hands-on principal, Washington attended to every detail, from overseeing faculty and students, to school publications. He monitored the quality of instruction, inspected campus grounds and buildings, and scrutinized students. The university grew immensely and focused on training African Americans in agricultural pursuits.

Washington personally made sure that Tuskegee maintained its excellent reputation. On the other hand, he also reassured whites that nothing in the Tuskegee program would threaten white supremacy or pose any economic competition to whites.

A skilled politician and major political force, Washington developed relationships with blacks, whites, farmers and businessmen in the North and the South, but not everyone agreed with his views. Washington urged blacks to accept discrimination for the time being and concentrate on elevating themselves through hard work and material prosperity. While politicians and presidents sought him out, some in the African American community, such as W.E.B. Du Bois, saw him as a traitor and criticized the extent and use of his power and influence. President William McKinley visited Tuskegee. In 1901, Washington dined at the White House with President Theodore Roosevelt making him the first African American to be so honored. However, the fact that Roosevelt asked Washington to dine with him (inferring the two were equal) was unprecedented and controversial, causing an uproar among whites. Both President Roosevelt and his successor, President William Howard Taft, used Washington as an adviser on racial matters, partly because he accepted racial subservience.

Washington’s controversial Atlanta Exposition speech in 1895 (Atlanta Compromise) appeared to support separate development as a “”necessary condition for economic cooperation between the races.”” He said “”In all things that are purely social, we can be as separate as the fingers, yet as one hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”” The speech brought him fame as well as criticism. Many believe that Washington’s address laid the ground for state supported segregation. Dedicated to the continued existence of Tuskegee, Washington secretly supported many black causes for equality. For Washington, education and hard work led to economic independence, and then to political rights.

Washington remained the head of Tuskegee Institute until his death on November 14, 1915, at the age of 59, of congestive heart failure. Washington’s funeral was held on November 17, 1915, in the Tuskegee Institute Chapel, and was attended by nearly 8,000 people. He was buried on campus in a brick tomb, made by students, on a hill commanding a view of the entire campus.

Under Washington’s leadership, Tuskegee became a leading school in the country. At his death, it had more than 100 well-equipped buildings, 1,500 students, a 200-member faculty teaching 38 trades and professions, and a nearly $2 million endowment. Washington put much of himself into the school’s curriculum, stressing the virtues of patience, enterprise, and thrift. He taught that economic success for African Americans would take time, and that subordination to whites was a necessary evil until African Americans could prove they were worthy of full economic and political rights. He believed that if African Americans worked hard and obtained financial independence and cultural advancement, they would eventually win acceptance and respect from the white community.

In addition to his contributions in education, Washington contributed to the Progressive Era by forming the National Negro Business League. It encouraged entrepreneurship among black businessmen, establishing a national network. Washington also authored and co-authored many books that reflected his ideas on education and society. Up Slavery, his autobiography written in 1901, has been translated into many languages and is still widely read today. He was awarded many honorary degrees, including degrees from Harvard and Dartmouth Universities. The American people recognized his extraordinary achievements with a commemorative US postage stamp in 1940; in 1956 when his birthplace became Booker T. Washington National Monument; and again in 1974, when his residence at Tuskegee Institute, The Oaks, became part of the NPS Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site.”

His work greatly helped blacks to achieve education, financial power, and understanding of the U.S. legal system. This contributed to blacks’ attaining the skills to create and support the civil rights movement, leading to the passage in the later 20th century of important federal civil rights laws.

At iSeek we admire Booker T. Washington’s passion for education and hard work and understand the importance of professional and personal development. We are proud to recognize and celebrate Washington’s accomplishments, legacy, and leadership.

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Black History Month 2020: Innovator, Annie Jean Easley

Raised by a single mother who told her she could do anything she wanted as long as she worked at it, Annie Easley (1933-2011) born in Birmingham, Alabama became one of the first African American computer and rocket scientists. She became one of the first African American women to be hired by NASA, specializing in computer programming and alternative energy technologies over the course of her 34-year career.

The daughter of Samuel Bird Easley and Mary Melvina Hoover was born April 23, 1933 and grew up in pre-Civil Rights Movement Birmingham. From the fifth grade through high school, Easley attended Holy Family High School, a private, Roman Catholic high school in the Ensley neighborhood of Birmingham, where she was valedictorian of her graduating class.

In 1950, Easley attended Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans for two years where she majored in pharmacology. In 1954, the Birmingham native briefly returned home and used her college education to help African Americans pass a Jim Crow-era discriminatory literacy test on Alabama’s history to secure their right to vote. Also, while in Birmingham, she briefly served as a substitute teacher in Jefferson County, AL., before marrying and moving with her husband to Cleveland, Ohio.

After moving to Cleveland in 1955, Easley was informed that the only pharmacy program in the region had just closed, so she had to find a different career. Easley ran across an article in a local Cleveland newspaper about twin sisters who worked as “human computers” at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) that piqued her interest. Easley applied for a job the next day and was hired two weeks later – she was one of four African Americans of about 2500 employees. Easley began her career as a mathematician performing complex mathematical calculations for the engineers by hand at the NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory, which is now known as the NASA John H. Glenn Research Center in Ohio. She continued her education while working for the agency, and in 1977, obtained a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Cleveland State University. As part of a continuing education, Easley worked through specialization courses offered by NASA.

Letting nothing stop or discourage her, when human computers were replaced by machines, Easley evolved along with the technology and learned computer programming. She developed computer code for analyzing alternative energy technologies for electric vehicles, and some of her work led to battery development for hybrid cars. She was a leading member of the team which developed software for the Centaur, a booster rocket that launched spacecrafts such as Cassini. While at NASA, Easley also took on the role of equal employment opportunity counselor, helping address discrimination complaints regarding race, gender, and age.

Easley’s work at NASA provided the technological foundations for some of the most important inventions of the 20th century including launches of communications, military satellites, weather satellites, and storage batteries. Her work contributed to the 1997 flight to Saturn of the Cassini probe, the launcher of which had the Centaur as its upper stage. Throughout her career, Easley contributed to numerous programs as a computer scientist, inspired many through her enthusiastic participation in outreach programs, broke down barriers for women and people of color in science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) fields, and won the admiration and respect of her coworkers. Many who knew her would say that it was not just the work that she did that made a difference; it was her energy and positive attitude that had a tremendous impact.

Similar to Easley’s tech work at NASA, iSeek’s technology consulting professionals develop winning strategies that align the right technologies with business goals. At iSeek Solutions, we exceed for our clients when we are tasked with analyzing and enhancing hardware and software investments when performing technology evaluations and benefit analysis, architecting and deploying technology to ensure alignment between business and technology, and optimizing performance and managing expenses.

Easley retired from NASA in 1989. She skied, played tennis, and volunteered. She worked part-time in real estate and occasionally tutored. She passed away at age 78 in 2011, but her legacy, impact, contributions, and groundbreaking work continues to shape and advance our world today.

At iSeek, we admire Annie Easley’s tenacity and understand the importance of contributing and giving back to the community. We are proud to recognize and celebrate Easley’s accomplishments.

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Cyber Security

Cyber Security: The Insider Threat

In an article posted by RSA Conference, the premier provider of global events and year-round online cybersecurity content, the contributor stated,

“In 2019, worldwide spending on information security products and services is estimated to reach over $124 billion.

However, the lack of internal collaboration contributes directly to data breaches in a number of ways. Studies of recent data breaches reveal that 70 percent of breaches are actually caused by people and process failures within the company. Contrast this with the fact that 60 percent of C-level executives believe that their current company solutions protect them well enough against hackers, vs only 29 percent of IT pros who believe the same.”

According to IBM’s 2015 Cyber Security Intelligence Index report, human error is almost always a factor in breaches. Although only 23.5% of cyber-attacks were carried out by inadvertent insiders (compared to 31.5% by malicious insiders), 95% of all breaches involved someone making a mistake.

And, in its 2019 X-Force Threat Intelligence Index report, IBM researchers observed that two of the most prolific ways inadvertent insiders leave organizations open to attack is by falling for phishing scams or social engineering, and through the improper configuration of systems, servers, and cloud environments, and by foregoing password best practices.

According to a Dell study which surveyed cyber security professionals, 59% listed managers as one of the biggest insider threats in cyber security, followed by contractors (48%), regular employees (46%), IT admin and staff (41%) and 3rd party service providers (30%).

So, what do all these quotes and statistics have in common? Cyber Threats and People, e.g., Insider Threat.

An insider threat is defined as a malicious threat to an organization that comes from people within the organization, such as employees, former employees, contractors or business associates, who have inside information concerning the organization’s security practices, data and computer systems. The threat may involve fraud, the theft of confidential or commercially valuable information, the theft of intellectual property, or the sabotage of computer systems.

The insider threat comes in three categories: 1) malicious insiders, which are people who take advantage of their access to inflict harm on an organization; 2) negligent insiders, which are people who make errors and disregard policies, which place their organizations at risk; and 3) infiltrators, who are external actors that obtain legitimate access credentials without authorization.

Of the estimated $124 billion spent on Cyber Security, how much is aimed at protecting your organizations information and systems from unauthorized insider misuse?

iSeek’s Insider Threat (InT) Assessment is an in-depth health check that identifies potential vulnerabilities, gaps in or lack of adherence to business processes, policies, procedures and governance, and management issues that open the door for insider threat incidents.

Our team of experts will devise a Roadmap to Develop, Adjust or Improve your organization’s Insider Threat program to proactively mitigate or recover from insider threat incidents.

For details about our Insider Threat (InT) Assessment, contact us today at To learn more about iSeek’s solutions, check out our website, subscribe to our blog, or follow us on LinkedIn!