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Dr. James E. Pierce interview, 2020-12-15

Identifier: rwhc_ohp_2020_002.wav

Content Description

From the Collection:

Oral history interviews recorded by students in the Real World History class at Center for Inspired Teaching.


  • Creation: 2020-12-15


Language of Materials


Biographical / Historical

James Edward Pierce, Jr. was born on April 2nd, 1925 in Williamsburg, Virginia, to James E. Pierce Sr. and Pearl “Pearly” Edna Wallace Pierce. James Pierce Sr. died on December 17th, 1926, leaving Pearl a widow at age 21 with three children to care for. The family moved in with Pearl’s mother on a farm until Pearl remarried in 1934 and later gave birth to three more children. By the time the youngest daughter, Anne, was born in 1942, Dr. Pierce was 17 years old and preparing to attend Hampton University in the fall. While at Hampton, Pierce was drafted into the US Navy and served for three years before returning to Hampton in 1946 and graduating in 1949. After college, Pierce moved to Chicago and became a registered medical technologist. He then began working at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, where he remained from 1950 to August of 1953. After Chicago, Pierce received a job offer in Richmond, California, and completed the four-day drive west alone. Upon reaching Richmond, the job offer was reneged when his employers discovered that he was Black. Undaunted, Pierce drove down to Oakland and walked into Kaiser Permanente Hospital. An old friend from Chicago greeted him and offered him a job on the spot. Pierce accepted the position, spent the next few weeks touring California, and then settled down working at Kaiser Permanente for the next two years. Pierce then decided he wanted a master’s in public health. He applied and was accepted to North Carolina Central University, and, after driving back across the nation, began his studies in September of 1955. After completing his master’s degree, Pierce considered returning to California but his then girlfriend, Dorothy Anne Piggot, asked him to consider Washington, D.C., where she was living. Pierce arrived in August of 1956 and got a job as the first Black medical technician at George Washington University Hospital. When his supervisor at GW retired in 1961, Pierce was next in line for the position but was denied the job because of his race. Pierce then left GW and got a job at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1961. At NIH, Pierce first worked under Baruche M. Blumberg (who would receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1968) and later switched into the world of management at NIH. Pierce became the first Black management intern at the institution and later took a job in personnel management at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. After that, he moved up until he became the special assistant to the assistant director of operations for all of NIH. After 30 years at NIH, Pierce retired on April 1st, 1991 at age 66 and was celebrated with a massive farewell party.


From the Collection: 27.1 Gigabytes (DIG_0029)

From the Collection: 228 Files (DIG_0029)


In this oral history interview, Dr. James E. Pierce discusses his early life in Williamsburg, Virginia, his experiences living and working in various parts of the country, and his life and career in Washington, D.C. Dr. Pierce begins with a discussion of his upbringing and family life in Williamsburg and his service in World War II. He then talks about his career in medical technology, the discrimination he faced as a Black man in the medical field, and his travels around the country. Dr. Pierce concludes the interview with a discussion of his time in Washington, D.C., and his career at the National Institutes of Health.

Repository Details

Part of the The People's Archive, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library Repository

901 G Street NW
4th Floor East
Washington DC 20001