James Stith (Finding Aid)

James Stith

1941 -

Favorite Color: Blue and Green

Favorite Food: Chicken

Favorite Time of Year: Spring

Favorite Vacation Spot: Any cruise

Interview Length: 201 minutes

Interview Date(s): July 14, 2010

Interview Location(s): Baltimore, Maryland


James Stith slates his interview and shares his favorites. He begins by talking about his mother's family background, which he can trace back to his great-grandfather, Wally Stith, who was a slave. Stith's maternal grandparents were Martin Stith and Dinah Macklin Stith. He explains that his family name came from white slave-owners traced back to William Stith, a member of the faculty at The College of William & Mary. Stith describes life on the Stith family's farm in Brunswick County, Virginia. His mother was Ruth Stith Morgan. Stith was never told his father's name, but his mother remarried a man named Griffen Pierpoint Morgan. Although Stith had a rocky relationship with his stepfather, he got along with his three stepsisters. Stith does not remember his grandmother, Dinah Macklin Morgan, who raised him until he was four years old, but he can recall her funeral.

James Stith describes his childhood on his family's farm in Brunswick County, Virginia. He lived in a black community and attended the Johnson Grove Reformed Zion Union Apostolic (RZUA) Church. He discusses his elementary school experience at Oak Grove Elementary School in Cochrane, Virginia. The school was segregated and consisted of three classrooms. Stith a few of his classmates were responsible for teaching the material to the rest of the class. Stith recalls his early interest in reading, science and understanding how things work, explaining that it was not until his high school years that he was formally introduced to science.

James Stith begins the interview session by talking about segregation in his community in Brunswick County, Virginia, in the 1950s. He then describes his high school experience at James Solomon Russell High School in Lawrencevile, Virginia. After representing the school in the State Science Fair, Stith's grades improved and he enjoyed school. His physics teacher, Evelyn Davis pushed him to work hard, and his math teacher advised him to pursue a college education. Stith describes his admiration for his uncle, Theodore Stith, who served in the United States Air Force and was the first in his family to graduate from high school. Stith graduated as valedictorian of his high school class in 1959 and transitioned into college life at Virginia State College, where he studied under Dr. John Hunter, Dr. T. Nelson Baker, Dr. Dickie Dunn, and Ruben McDaniel. During college, Stith pledged into the fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha.

James Stith discusses the political climate of the 1960 presidential election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Literacy tests and poll taxes were among the obstacles that prevented many African Americans from voting. Stith explains his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement during his college years at Virginia State College, before going on to discuss his graduate school and teaching experiences. He then describes his participation in the United States Army, serving in both Korea and at Fort Lewis in Seattle, Washington. Following his service, Stith worked at the Radio Corporation of America where he worked with photodiodes, and he continued his graduate studies at Pennsylvania State University.

James Stith describes his graduate dissertation, "Stimulated Brillouin Scattering in Liquids at High Pressure," and shares stories of studying under the tutelage of Dr. David H. Rank. Stith earned his D.Ed. degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1972. After some difficulty finding a job, Stith elected to rejoin the United States Army and become a professor at the United States Military Academy. Stith recalls the push to recruit minority faculty and students, and he describes the efforts that he helped put in place to support both groups, including the "Black Officers at West Point," the Kappa Upsilon Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, and the school's gospel choir. Stith closes this interview section discussing how he received tenure at the United States Military Academy.

James Stith discusses some of the changes that took place when the United States Military Academy became a co-educational institution in 1976. Also that year, Stith was offered a tenured position at the United States Military Academy as well as a sabbatical year at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where Stith recalls meeting Daniel "Chappie" James. Stith describes the shift in his research to physics education, and his participation in professional organizations like the American Association of Physics Teachers, which he led as president from 1992 to 1993. Stith also served as vice president for resources of the American Institute of Physics from 1998 to 2008. Stith closes the interview by discussing the initiatives he helped direct at The Ohio State University, where he worked from 1993 to 1998, and his philosophy for physics education.

James Stith talks about his hopes and concerns for the black community and he discusses the profile of black physicists on college campuses. He then talks about founding the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) in 1976 at Morgan State University. He then describes his wife and daughters, and reflects on how he wants to be remembered.

60 Stories (See Ordered Story Set)