“My father used chess as his guide: Black begins with a disadvantage. You have to look farther ahead, work extra hard, rely on cunning, and assume everyone else is your opponent.”
John Stanley Ford was proud of his position as the first black systems engineer at IBM. Founder Thomas J. Watson hired Stanley himself in 1946, extending an invitation that would shape the young accounting student’s life. Stanley invested his life in the job, often passing his computer knowledge along to his son, Clyde. But Stanley was passed over for promotion again and again. Although Stanley and his wife marched on Washington in the civil rights era, Stanley had internalized some of the racism around him. He believed he was inferior, and he saw his lack of advancement at IBM as confirmation.
Clyde resisted following the path his father had paved. He was more radical and refused to adjust himself to the white business world’s expectations. Even so, Clyde too ended up at IBM—sporting a wide-lapel suit and an afro.
The Ford men ultimately took different paths, with Stanley spending his career at IBM and Clyde leaving to pursue other dreams. But his years at the company helped Clyde understand his father. After Clyde left IBM to become a chiropractor, he learned that his father—and many others—gave up their dreams for the financial security of IBM.
In Think Black, Clyde blends personal experience with technological and racial history to reveal how these things influenced one another. This wide-ranging memoir includes complex details about software and hardware as well as an exploration of IBM’s ties to oppressive regimes. While his examination of the past can’t change his relationship with his father, Clyde Ford’s words powerfully honor his father’s dreams and contributions to the digital age.