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African American History Month: A time to reflect on lasting leadership contributions

10 February 2016

NGA Office of Corporate Communications

Americans have come together to celebrate African-American history, every February since 1926, educating the public about the contributions of African Americans both past and the present.

African-American history is embedded in the narrative of American history, as well as the history of NGA and predecessor organizations. Mapping pioneers like Paul L. Peeler Jr. and William “Bill” J. Brown made countless contributions to NGA predecessor organizations, but they were also individual inspirations for change and equality within the organization.

Paul Peeler was the first African American and the first civilian to serve as the Director of the Defense Mapping Agency Reston Center. He was responsible for oversight of testing and approving the first all-digital production systems. Peeler was instrumental in leading the transformation from manual production methods to digital production. Joining the Army Map Service, predecessor to DMA, in 1961 as a geodesist, Peeler and held a number of prominent positions before his retirement in 1996.

Bill Brown was the first African-American Director of the Defense Mapping Agency Aerospace Center in St. Louis. He began his federal career in 1962 as a cartographer for the Air Force Aeronautical Chart and Information Center, a predecessor organization to DMA. He rose from cartographer, to supervisor, to administrator, to take DMA into the 21st century. Starting as a paper boy, Brown ended up attending Kansas State University where he was one of six black students out of 25 thousand. A conference room in St. Louis was named in his honor, and is used today for special events, award ceremonies and workforce Town Halls.

Both Peeler and Brown made NGA predecessor organizations their career, changing assignments back and forth from Washington to St. Louis. Peeler and Brown’s lasting contributions and examples of leadership are honored through today’s continued commitment to the GEOINT tradecraft, and the fight for equality through workforce diversity and inclusion at NGA.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford issued the first African American History Month proclamation, calling upon the American people to celebrate the event each February. President Obama, in his 2013 African American History Month proclamation said, “This dream of equality and fairness has never come easily—but it has always been sustained by the belief that in America, change is possible. Today, because of that hope, coupled with the hard and painstaking labor of Americans sung and unsung, we live in a moment when the dream of equal opportunity is within reach for people of every color and creed.”