Remembering Frederick Isadore Scott, Johns Hopkins’ First Black Undergraduate

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Frederick Isadore Scott, the first African-American undergraduate to earn a degree from Johns Hopkins University, died July 15 at Johns Hopkins Hospital following complications from an infection. He was 89.

Scott’s journey at Hopkins started as a lighthearted dare, the Baltimore native recalled in a 2004 interview which became part of a project called “African-Americans at the Johns Hopkins University.” Already planning to attend Penn State, he called the registrar’s office and asked “Do you let Negroes into your school?” They replied, “I don’t know, we haven’t had anyone to apply.”

Frederick I. Scott (Photo Credit/Johns Hopkins University Hub)

Scott applied, and after scoring high on an entrance exam, he was accepted. In February 1945, he became Hopkins’ first African American undergraduate student, one day after graduating from Baltimore’s Frederick Douglass High School with high honors.

Scott said in the interview, “Going one day from an all-Black environment to an all-White environment is a complete shocker.”

Except for one instance in which he received a part in a play due to his race, Scott said he did not experience overt racism at Hopkins. He did not live on the campus, as there were no interracial residence halls at the time. Instead, he commuted by streetcar from his parents’ house on Franklin Street in West Baltimore to the Homewood campus every day.

The commute did not stop him from participating in various campus activities. In fact, Scott was a founding member of Beta Sigma Tau, Baltimore’s first interracial fraternity which encompassed students from Johns Hopkins as well as students from nearby Loyola University and Morgan State University. The fraternity did not practice hazing or rituals, but required all members to participate in research or community service.

After a 15-month stint in the U.S. Army in 1947 and marrying his wife Viola Fowlkes in 1949, Scott graduated from Hopkins in 1950 with a degree in chemical engineering.

The AFRO reported in 1950 that “Fred Scott was the first non-white to graduate with a June class from the famed Baltimore university.”

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

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

Seeking a professional change, Scott left RCA and worked at scientific and trade journals during the 1960s and 1970s, including American Laboratory, where he served as an editor.

Scott returned to Baltimore in the 1990s and resided in Woodlawn. He continued working in engineering, providing editorial guidance for International Scientific Communications, Inc. and serving as editor for American Clinical Laboratory and American Laboratory.

As a trailblazer, Scott was an active member of the Fred Scott Brigade, an alumni group consisting primarily of graduates from the 1960s and 1970s that helped mentor and network African American students attending Hopkins.

Turning to media relations later in life, he co-founded Baltimore Grassroots Media, Inc., a non-profit that provides news and information services to public access television outlets. More recently, he was working on a project invoking positive images of African Americans of all ages, according to members of the Fred Scott Brigade.

Scott and his wife also owned and operated F. I. Scott Associates, an online business that marketed technical instruments, medical equipment, computer books, and devices. For a brief period, they also resided in Blacksburg, Va. where, according to his sister, they responded to a lack of emergency services in the area by organizing an EMT squad.

Scott was born on October 27, 1927 to Frederick Isadore Scott, Sr., a postal worker and Rebecca E. Scott, a school teacher. Scott’s grandfather, Rev. Garnett R. Waller, was a founding member of the Niagara Movement, an organization founded by W. E. B. DuBois and a predecessor to the NAACP.

Scott and his wife lived their last days in Baltimore; she passed away in 2006. Prior to his death, Scott resided in Westminster House, a senior community located in Mt. Vernon.

He is survived by a sister, Patricia Waddy, and a brother, David Scott.

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