Robert Bragg (Finding Aid)

Robert Bragg

1919 -

Favorite Color: Black, Brown, Beige, and Dark Blue

Favorite Food: Greens

Favorite Time of Year: Spring and Early Fall

Favorite Vacation Spot: Everywhere

Interview Length: 311 minutes

Interview Date(s): March 11, 2011

Interview Location(s): Emeryville, California


Robert Bragg discusses his family background. His mother, Lilly Camille McFarland, was born in 1897 to William Peter McFarland and Sally Wilson. Bragg's father, Robert Henry Bragg, Sr., was born in Collierville, Tennessee near Memphis. His exact date of birth is unknown, but Bragg believes his father is seven or eight years older than his mother. Bragg's paternal grandparents, Henry Isaac Bragg and Mary Foster [Waters], married in 1891. Henry was born into slavery near the northern border of Alabama. Henry worked as a carpenter and provided many of his children with a formal education, sending them to Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee and LeMoyne College in Memphis, Tennessee. Bragg's paternal grandmother's marriage is her second marriage; she had one son in her previous marriage. Together, Bragg's paternal grandparents had four children: Jordan, Robert, Minnie, and a fourth unnamed child.

Robert Bragg discusses his mother's life in New York City, how his parents met, and their life together. His parents were married around 1915 and shortly after move to Jacksonville, Florida, where his father worked as a chandler in the shipyards. The couple tried running a restaurant for a while, but due to personal issues, they decided to close the business. They also tried homesteading, but were unsuccessful. The last venture of Bragg's parents as a couple was in working at a lumber camp in Green Cove Springs. His mother was very unhappy in this situation and in 1925, under the pretext of taking her children to see her family, she and the four children permanently moved to Memphis. The next time that Bragg saw his father was upon his death in 1939. Lily McFarland later marries Alex Hunt, a musician and World War I bandmaster. Bragg then talks about which side of the family he resembles, and describes life with his maternal grandparents in Memphis.

Robert Bragg describes his childhood, his elementary school education and moving to Chicago. His home in Memphis, Tennessee, was on Mosby Street near the Straight-Home Valley Housing Project. He and his siblings were forbidden to go there because his family regarded it as unsafe. Bragg lived near the Palace and Daisy Theaters and the One Minute, which sold hamburgers for a nickel. Bragg attended elementary school, first at Carnes, then St. Anthony's. Later, he attended Woodstock Training School, a boarding school near Lucy, Tennessee, where he remained until 1933. His mother was not making enough money to support Bragg and his siblings, so she sent them to live with different relatives. Bragg was sent to Chicago to live with his Uncle Teddy and Aunt Edna. While in Chicago, Bragg was exposed to African American organizations such as NAACP and UNIA, of which he was unaware until moving to the city.

Robert Bragg talks about living in Chicago with his uncle. He attended Tilden Technical High School and then studied pre-engineering at Wilson Junior College for two years. After that, Bragg went to serve in the Army Air Corps, where he completed basic training and was sent to Seymour Fields, North Carolina. He later applied and was accepted to the Army Specialized Training Program, where he was able to continue his studies at Rhode Island State College. After the army shut down the ASTP, Bragg was sent to Fort Lee, Virginia.

Robert Bragg talks about his service in WWII and using funds from the G.I. Bill to attend the Illinois Institute of Technology. Bragg was assigned to Camp Lee, Virginia, where he became a technical sergeant and taught in the school for the laundry master. Upon his deployment, Bragg was consistently assigned to field hospitals and general hospitals where he was in charge of his laundry unit. After a panel review, Bragg is promoted to lieutenant, after which his unit was sent to the Philippines and Japan. After his discharge, Bragg used funding from the G.I. Bill to attend Illinois Institute of Technology. There, he took evening classes and changed his major to physics. He earned his B.A. degree in physics with a minor in mathematics from IIT in 1949 with.

Robert Bragg talks about his continued studies at Illinois Institute of Technology [IIT]. Upon earning his B.S. degree, Bragg returned to IIT to work with Professor Francis Yost in quantum mechanical scattering theories. He graduated with a M.S. degree in 1951, and worked at Dover Electroplating Company where he worked as a laborer before going on to work at Portland Cement Association Research Laboratory. His first project was a study of desiccant materials, which had been put to use in untested laboratory procedures. Bragg also discovered two hydrates of magnesium perchlorate. In 1952, Bragg attended a summer session at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and he continued his education with courses at IIT. His professor encouraged him to pursue his Ph.D. degree. In 1956, following a confrontation at work, Bragg decided to leave Portland Cement Association and began to search for another position elsewhere, with the hopes of earning his Ph.D. degree.

Robert Bragg discusses his career at Armour Research Foundation (ARF) and completing his PhD. Bragg went to work in the solid state physics department of the Armour Research Foundation, at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Bragg later became a group leader and was able to attend classes at IIT to complete his Ph.D. degree with funding from ARF. Bragg earned his Ph.D. degree in 1960, going on to work for Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in the Bay Area, California. Bragg became the manager of the Metallurgy Department and worked with graduate students from Stanford University. Bragg remained at Lockheed for five years. During his time with Lockheed, Bragg worked with the Re-Entry Materials Program and carbon materials and traveled to the Tokai Chemical Company in Japan. While living in Palo Alto, California, Bragg became the president of the Palo Alto chapter of the NAACP.

Robert Bragg talks about his employment at the University of California, Berkeley and his travels to Argentina. While working for Lockheed, Bragg visited a military friend living in Argentina. While there, Bragg was given the opportunity to speak on Argentine radio about race relations in the United States. Upon his return, Bragg was offered a full professorship and joint appointment in the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory at the University of California Berkeley. Bragg was on the Berkeley faculty from 1969 to 1987, and during that time was the only African American in the department. He served as Department Chair from 1978 to 1981, and his two major areas of research during his tenure were carbon materials as semiconductors, and eutectic solidification.

Robert Bragg describes his significant scientific achievements and research work related to carbon. While at University of California Berkeley, he concurrently worked for a year as a detailee for the Department of Energy, where he surveyed HBCUs to see which were qualified for research funding. In addition, he was also the first sponsor of BESSA (Black Engineering and Science Students Association) at University of California, Berkeley, and on the Northern California Council of Black Professional Engineers. While on faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, Bragg served on the policy advisory board of the Black Studies program. When asked if he would have done anything differently, Bragg states that he would have stayed at the Central YMCA and that he could have been better off when going into the U.S. Army.

Robert Bragg talks about his time as a busboy at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, and his work on the Materials Research Advisory Committee of the National Science Foundation. He also explains his job as the faculty assistant to the chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley. As the faculty assistant, Bragg had to fight against departments that were reluctant to hire minorities during the late 1980s. He credits the creation of the many programs he oversees to Bill Shack and Olly Wilson. One of these programs was the Chancellor Minority Fellowship, which allowed minority faculty to get some experience in academia by providing them a place to work. Bragg concludes by talking about scientific legacies and his hopes and concerns for the African American community.

Robert Bragg talks about the status of his immediate family members, including his son and daughter, his former wife Violet, his brother Johnny McFarland Bragg, and his late mother, Lily Camille McFarland. Bragg's son died in 2008 after opting to do self-dialysis after kidney transplant surgery. His son worked in electronics with Hewlett-Packard and went on the road as a rock musician and worked the last few years as a media specialist at Skyline College in the Bay Area, California. Bragg's daughter lives with her mother in the Bay Area, who was a supervisor with Santa Clara County. Bragg's brother, Johnny McFarland Bragg, lives in Phoenix with his wife. Johnny retired from his position as an inspector with the Chicago Water Department. Bragg states that he wants to be remembered as a nice guy who tried to be helpful. .***MAKERCATEGORY ScienceMaker; EducationMaker

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