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Frederick I. Scott, Jr., Johns Hopkins University's first African-American undergraduate, dies at 89

Frederick Scott was an active member of the Fred Scott Brigade, an alumni group that helped mentor and and network African-American students attending Johns Hopkins.
Frederick Scott was an active member of the Fred Scott Brigade, an alumni group that helped mentor and and network African-American students attending Johns Hopkins. (HANDOUT)

Frederick I. Scott Jr., the Johns Hopkins University's first African-American undergraduate, who went into a successful career as an engineer and editor, died July 15 at the Johns Hopkins Hospital of complications from an infection.

The Mount Vernon resident was 89.

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It began as a dare from several high school friends — Mr. Scott went to a pay phone and called the registrar's office at Hopkins to apply for undergraduate admission. He had already been accepted at Pennsylvania State University and had planned to study there.

It was "on a lark. It was very lighthearted," Mr. Scott told Nabiha Syed, who interviewed him in 2004 as part of a project called African-Americans at the Johns Hopkins University. "I called and said, 'Do you let Negroes into your school?' And they said, 'I don't know, we haven't had anyone apply.' "

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Mr. Scott did apply and after scoring high on the entrance exam, was accepted. He began his career at Homewood as the university's first African-American student on Feb. 1, 1945, the day after he graduated from Frederick Douglass High School with high academic honors.

Mr. Scott did not live on campus, as there were no interracial dormitories at the time. He rode the streetcar each day from his parent's Franklin Street home in West Baltimore to Hopkins.

Recalling his first day at Hopkins, he told Ms. Nabiha that it was nothing less than "culture shock" in which there was a "complete change of atmosphere, relationships, and comfort level."

"As Mr. Scott put it, the realization that 'ain't nobody here but you' put an inordinate amount of pressure on him to succeed," she wrote.

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"Compared to a high school in which he was immersed in an extraordinarily supportive environment, the atmosphere at Hopkins encouraged more self-sufficiency and provided little hand-holding, particularly to the young, trailblazing Mr. Scott," she wrote.

Ms. Syed observed that Mr. Scott's arrival at Hopkins "changed its static image."

Her project notes that David Taliaferro, a chaplain at Levering Hall, encouraged Mr. Scott, telling him: "Hopkins has as much to gain from you as you do from them."

He was a founding member of Beta Sigma Tau, Baltimore's first interracial fraternity, which forbade hazing and included students not only from Hopkins, but also Morgan State University and what is now Loyola University Maryland.

To be admitted, pledges had to be engaged in either research or community service.

Mr. Scott served as a member of the Honor Commission at Johns Hopkins, established in 1947. The commission examined cases of students who had violated the honor code.

Mr. Scott had been an actor at high school, and told Ms. Syed the only time he perceived discrimination at the university was when he tried out for a play with the Barnstormers and was told there were no roles available for him.

Beyond that, he said, he "never had any complaints" regarding overt racial prejudice.

He changed his major from mechanical to chemical engineering, and told Ms. Syed that his classwork kept him quite busy. His schedule did not allow him to participate in many extracurricular campus activities, with a notable exception: an interracial bridge club that met daily for cards and conversation in Levering Hall.

After a year at Hopkins, he was called to active duty with the Army. He returned 15 months later in 1947 to resume his studies.

After he and Viola Fowlkes married in 1949, they settled into an apartment building while he continued commuting to school.

He obtained a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1950 as the first African-American undergraduate from Hopkins.

The Afro-American newspaper reported the milestone, noting: "Fred Scott was the first non-white to graduate with a June class from the famed Baltimore university."

After leaving Hopkins, Mr. Hopkins worked for the next eight years for the RCA Laboratories near Princeton, N.J.,as a process development engineer and senior engineer.

While at RCA, he attended the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, where he obtained a master's degree in management engineering.

He also designed and assisted in the building of his home in Montclair, N.J., where he lived for many years.

Desiring a professional change, Mr. Scott left RCA and spent the 1960s and 1970s working for scientific and trade journals, including American Laboratory, where he was editor.

Returning to Baltimore in the 1990s when he settled into a home on Dogwood Road in Woodlawn, Mr. Scott continued working in the field of engineering, providing editorial expertise for International Scientific Communications Inc., and serving as editor of American Clinical Laboratory and American Laboratory.

He was a co-founder of Baltimore Grassroots Media Inc., a nonprofit that provides news and information services to public access television.

He and his wife also owned and operated F. I. Scott Associates, an online business that marketed technical instruments, medical equipment, computer books and devices. They also had lived for a time in Blacksburg, Va., where they helped organize an emergency medical technicians unit.

The son of Frederick I. Scott Sr., a postman, and Rebecca E. Scott, a school teacher, Frederick Isadore Scott Jr. was born and raised in West Baltimore.

Family members said his maternal grandfather, the Rev. Garnett R. Waller, was a founding member of the Niagara Movement, an organization founded by W.E.B. DuBois and others that was a precursor to the NAACP.

In recent years, Mr. Scott lived at Westminster House, a Mount Vernon senior community.

Mr. Scott never lost his affection for and appreciation of Hopkins. For more than 20 years he was an active member of the Fred Scott Brigade, an alumni group that helped mentor and and network African-American students attending the university.

"Mr. Scott's impact on the Johns Hopkins community has not ceased in tne years since his graduation," Ms. Syed wrote, saying that he remained involved with "recruiting and alumni issues, encouraging those students who desire an academically rigorous challenge as well as an environment encouraging self-sufficiancy to attend the Johns Hopkins University."

"It was his various projects, that's what he liked doing," said his sister, Patricia Waddy of Columbia.

Mr. Scott and his wife enjoyed visiting Massanutten, Va., where they owned a time share. She died in 2006.

He had been an active member of Harlem Park Community Baptist Church.

A memorial service for Mr. Scott will be held at 11:30 a.m. Aug. 7 at Providence Baptist Church, 1401 Pennsylvania Ave., Baltimore.

In addition to his sister, he is survived by a brother, David Scott of Forest Park.

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