Engineer from History: Howard P. Grant

May 2014 » Departments » Civil + Structural History
Christina Zweig

Howard P. Grant was born in Houston in 1925, but moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was a young boy. After high school, he began studying engineering at UCLA and later transferred to University of California, Berkeley to complete his degree. In 1948, he became the first black student to graduate from the Berkeley College of Engineering, and this same year also became the first known black member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. 

Grant went on to become the first African-American civil engineer for the City and County of San Francisco and the second African-American civil engineer to be licensed by California. He worked in the San Francisco water department until 1984, and also held the position of president and treasurer of the California Society of Professional Engineers. 

In 1948, Howard P. Grant became the first black student to graduate from the Berkeley College of Engineering and also became the first known black member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Photos: UC Berkeley

According to UC Berkeley, in 1970 Grant’s friend and colleague, Frederick E. Jordan, requested that Grant host the first meeting of the Northern California’s black engineers at his home. Of the 19 engineers Jordan identified in the region, 17 attended this inaugural meeting. The group evolved into the Northern California Council of Black Professional Engineers (NCCBPE), a now 300-person organization devoted to encouraging African-American youth to consider careers in engineering.

Today, NCCBPE focuses on the professional development of minorities in the engineering field, and helps encourage young African Americans to enter technical fields. The organization holds activities designed to motivate youth and increase public awareness of the impact of technology on their lives and future. Grant served as the council’s president from 1971 to 1973. 

NCCBPE has continued to be involved with higher education in California and sponsors an annual field trip for several hundred students to the UC Davis Open House to introduce them to the engineering science facilities. The organization has also developed scholarship programs, including The Spirit of Unity Scholarship Fund, an academic scholarship funded by members; the F.E. Jordan Scholarship; and several corporate scholarships. NCCBPE also has a Museum of African American Technology (MAAT) Science Village, which conducts demonstrations of science and engineering discoveries and African Americans’ contributions to these fields.

Grant’s dedication to his job as a civil engineer and the desire to help others advance in engineering was apparent. He was not only known as a respected civil engineer but also hailed as an “inspiration and mentor” to minorities throughout California and the entire country.

Grant also was involved in a number of other organizations to help youth, the underprivileged, and minorities. He was a founding member of the Engineering Societies Committee for Manpower Training and served as a board member for Big Brothers, Hunter’s Point Boy’s Club, and the San Francisco Urban League’s scholarship committee.

UC Berkeley calls Grant an “engineering icon” and says his legacy was summarized by the words written by Grant’s friend, Frederick Jordan, after Grant’s death in 1997: “Howard Grant was a life success despite the odds, with a passion for doing what he could for his community.”


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