Even at the beginning of the 21st century, only two percent of 176, 485 professors at research universities were women of color nation-wide. There were very few minorities at all, actually, as 72% of tenured professors consisted of white males. Schools in the south had virtually no programs for African American women to obtain PhD’s. If a female African American was “lucky” enough to be employed as a university faculty member, they had very low pay and little to no chance for promotions. Racial prejudices at the time meant that these women received poor evaluations despite good performance and their supervisors would amplify small mistakes and hold them against them. They worked in a time that required them to be “twice as good to get half the recognition” as their white male counterparts. (Evans, 2007).
Dr. Betty Harris lived and strived in this culture, which speaks great measures as to her strength, intelligence and determination. She endured racial oppression because of her heritage, sexual oppression because of her gender and class oppression because she came from a poor farming family. Despite it all, she became a part of history as a successful and well-accomplished African American woman. (Howard-Vital, 1989).
African American women had few tools available to them. According to Jeanette Brown, successful minority female chemists most likely had supportive teachers that were probably African American women themselves, since teaching was one of the only careers available to an educated African American woman. Their teachers inspired them to pursue their education and careers, despite cultural oppressions and institutional racism that was practically setting them up for failure. Many of these successful women chose not to get married so that they could fully devote themselves to their dreams. They had to work to put themselves through school. They also had the benefit of having supportive parents that acted as positive role models to influence them to aspire beyond their oppressions and pursue their dreams. (Brown, 2011).
Other tools available to African American women in education, although far and few between, were mentoring programs and leadership programs. These programs provided women with the guidance needed to become successful, and they proved to be very helpful in this respect. (Ramey, 1995).