Published in The Asbury Park Press on March 4, 2002 by Fred Carl
Page B1, cont. Pg B2
During World War II black Americans demonstrated the spirit and heroism that would again be drawn upon in the 1960s to free America
from the grip of racial injustice. At Camp Evans, an Army research and development facility in Wall, they played an important role in providing the U.S. military with the new and vital technology of radar. Even before all the fires from the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor were extinguished, the enormity of the challenge facing the officers of Fort Monmouth and the radar officers of Camp Evans became apparent. The Army Signal. Corps had to deploy its cutting-edge radar systems and communications equipment to American forces worldwide. Hundreds of thousands of radio and radar units had to be produced for the war. Only a few thousand units were ready, and there were not enough trained personnel to deploy them.
Camp Evans personnel were dispatched to electronics duty world-wide. In this new “wizards’ war,” armies depended upon radar to warn them of enemy attacks just as they depended upon radios to coordinate attacks and defense.
Given (or more accurately, not denied) the opportunity to contribute to radar development, military and civilian black workers at Camp Evans met the challenge.
Before the war fewer than 60 people were working on radar at Camp Evans. During the war as many as 8,000, were under Camp Evans command, with about 4,000 actually working at the facility. With the great need for personnel, black engineers and other workers were hired.
All was not perfect. Black and white personnel who productively worked together in the Camp Evans radar laboratory would have to find separate travel accommodations when orders sent them to the South.
Despite their contribution to victory in World War II, winning opportunity at home would not be easy over the next 20 years. Nonetheless these Camp Evans engineers and soldiers’ became Ph.D.s, senior engineers, decorated officers and managers. For example, William Jones, an engineer at Camp Evans, would go on to help Werner Von Braun in the early U.S. space program.
Walter McAfee would help foreshadow the space age in Project Diana, when Camp Evans engineers bounced a radar signal off the moon for the first time. President Eisenhower would recognize McAfee’s work, and a Fort Monmouth building would be named in his honor.
All would volunteer time to teach and encourage young Fort Monmouth engineers to earn advanced degrees.”No Short Climb,” a video produced by Prof. Robert Johnson of Framingham State College based on interviews with black Americans involved in radar development at Fort Monmouth and Camp Evans, will show how these Americans demonstrated spirit and heroism in the face of insult and injustice.
Fred Carl of Wall is director of Infoage Inc., a nonprofit group working to establish an information-age learning center using historic buildings at Camp Evans.