Bernard W. Pryor is believed to be the first African-American hired by the Army’s Signal Intelligence Service which would become the National Security Agency (NSA) in 1952.
A thirty-nine-year- old former motorcycle messenger with the Navy Department, entered duty on 13 November 1939 as a messenger with the Signal Intelligence Service.
By mid-1943, Mr. Pryor’s proven leadership, results in him becoming the senior messenger of 15 people.
In 1944, he was moved to the personnel department at the direction of Colonel W. Preston Corderman, the then Chief of the Army’s Signal Security Agency. Pryor was directed to find and hire 100 or so black people and “give them meaningful work.”
This was likely a directive that came from Eleanor Roosevelt, via her spouse. She had just advocated for the formal creation of the U.S. Army’s African-American pilot program.
Pryor remained in personnel until he retired in 1965. Almost certainly he was the first black to work at NSA.
By the end of the war, a segregated office of thirty African Americans was engaged in researching messages encrypted in unknown systems, analyzing them, and producing translations.