Naval hidden figure speaks in Conway

Raye Montague

Raye Montague, a Naval "Hidden Figure" and Little Rock native, spoke on her life, career and accolades Saturday at the Conway Conference Center.

 

Montague, a decorated African-American woman who served in the Navy for 33 and half years, spoke to a room full of young women from ages 15 to 25 years old about how to get around obstacles.

Montague is credited as being the first person to design a ship using a computer, which is the FFG-7 frigate or Oliver Hazard Perry-class.

She was also a major component in designing computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing.

She received a bachelor of science segree from Arkansas AM&N, which is now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

“I was not allowed to receive a degree at Fayetteville because they did not accept minorities in those days, which was 1952,” she said.

After graduation, Montague said she worked with people who went to Ivy League colleges, such as Yale and Harvard, and she worked with people who worked on the Manhattan Project.

Despite having a degree, however, Montague said she had to work harder for everything she has accomplished because she grew up in a time where prejudice was more prevalent.

She said she first discovered she wanted to be an engineer at 7 years old after touring a German submarine on exhibit in Little Rock that was captured near the Carolinas in World War II.

“I asked the tour guide what I had to do to have his job,” she said. “He told me I had to become an engineer, but that I ‘didn’t have to worry about that.’ I didn’t realize he insulted me.”

Montague said this kind of interaction wasn’t her only struggle.

Despite having a college education, she had to start from the bottom in the Navy.

Eventually, she worked her way up to being the Naval representative for the Manufacturing Technology Advisory Group, which was set up by the U.S. Department of Defense.

She said the group featured representatives from the Air Force, the Army, NASA and the Navy and would go around to the different services and check out the programs to advise the Department of Defense on manufacturing techniques.

Montague said she also had a U.S. flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in her honor, which was given to her.

“You can imagine how proud that made me feel, a little girl from Little Rock,” she said.

Since her retirement in 1990, she has worked as a motivational speaker for younger to middle-aged people.

She told them it is never too late to change careers.

“My mother, who was the wind beneath my wings, taught me that I would always have three strikes against me,” she said. “I am a female, I am (at that time the term was Negro) and I would have a segregated Southern education. My mother said despite that, I could be anything I ever wanted, provided I work hard for it.”

Because of the things Montague has learned, she wants to inspire young people to be all they can be.

“I do a presentation called, ‘Changing Obstacles into Challenging Situations,’” she said. “You might have to drop down and go a different way around the obstacle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve what you are working for.

“In my case, I had to do business to go through all this other stuff. You can still achieve and, in my case, excel, but you have to be willing to work.”

Montague has received several honors in her career, including scholarships in her name, various awards and was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2013.

 

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