By Team MOC
Good Morning America paid tribute to a Navy engineer credited with revolutionizing the design process for ships and submarines. Born in 1935 in segregated Little Rock, Arkansas, Raye Montague was an unlikely candidate for changing anything in a male-dominated industry.
During her interview on GMA, Montague points out both the obstacles that make her story all the more incredible.”My mother told me when I was a very little girl, ‘Raye, you’ll have three strikes against you: You’re female; and you’re black; and you’ll have a Southern, segregated school education. But you can be or do anything you want provided you’re educated.'”
When she was seven, Montague’s grandfather took her to see a captured German mini-submarine. When she explored the inside, she asked a man who would be able to run the imposing piece of machinery with all of its dials and knobs. He told her she’d have to be an engineer “‘but you don’t ever have to worry about that.'”
She proved him — and everyone else — wrong.
Montague went to college and, while she took engineering programs, she graduated with a degree in business. At that time, no degree-granting programs in Arkansas awarded degrees in engineering to black women. Still, she took a job with the Navy in Washington, D.C. as a typist and learned engineering and computer programming as she worked.Montague is known for being the first person to design a ship with a computer. Given 30 days to complete the project, she finished it in 19 hours with a program that she designed. She was also the first female program manager of ships in the history of the Navy.
Minority women who have made great strides in science, technology, engineering, and math are beginning to get their due, thanks, in large part, to the movie “Hidden Figures.” The film chronicles three African American women who helped to put John Glenn into space and made indelible marks on the NASA space program. When speaking about the Oscar-nominated movie, Montague mentioned that their story was her story too: “I faced a lot of the same barriers.” Laughing, she noted that the big difference was that she didn’t have to run a mile and a half to the bathroom, as one of the characters does in the movie when there is no “colored” women’s bathroom in her office building.
Discrimination came in many forms for Montague. At the beginning of her career, men often thought that she was the help. One man went so far as to order a coffee from her: “‘I’d like a cup of coffee.'” Instead of being embarrassed, Montague shot back, “‘So would I. Be sure mine has cream and sugar.'”
At the end of the interview, singer and actress, Janelle Monae, surprised the GMA audience by appearing with flowers and presenting them to Montague. “We thank you so much for your service. And you are an American hero,” Monae, who played NASA engineer Mary Jackson in “Hidden Figures” said. “And you are hidden no more. Everybody sees you.”
Watch the full GMA clip: