In her revealing autobiography, Dr. Tolbert describes how she overcame the obstacles that threatened to derail her aspirations for a sound education and professional career. From humble beginnings—surrounded by dirt roads and segregated schools, left orphaned and penniless at an early age—she chose a path of hard work and diligent study that lifted her out of poverty, despair, and ignorance.
In an era of tense race relations, and despite numerous stumbling blocks, Dr. Tolbert rose to prominence as an African-American scientist, educator, and administrator—often in positions traditionally held by males. She eventually became:
• The first African-American female to serve as director of the nation’s New Brunswick Laboratory. • The first African-American female appointed director of education at Argonne National Laboratory. • The first female to serve as director of the Carver Research Foundation of Tuskegee Institute. • One of six African-American senior executives at the National Science Foundation. • The second African-American to graduate from Brown University with a doctorate in biochemistry. • The first member of the Mayo family of Suffolk, Virginia, to earn a doctoral degree.
Her journey, however, was no “crystal stair.” In publishing her tale, Dr. Tolbert affirms our human ability to survive the unexpected, rally against adversity, and charge ahead on a path to personal accomplishment. She is a strong role model with an inspirational message for others struggling against overwhelming odds.