Blake R. Van Leer

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Blake R. Van Leer
Dean Blake Van Leer.jpg
President of the Georgia Institute of Technology
In office
Preceded byMarion L. Brittain
Succeeded byEdwin D. Harrison
Dean of Engineering University of Florida
In office
Dean of Engineering North Carolina State University
In office
Berkeley City Council
In office
Personal details
BornAugust 16, 1893
Mangum, Oklahoma
DiedJanuary 23, 1956(1956-01-23) (aged 62)
Atlanta, Georgia
Alma materPurdue University
University of Caen Normandy
University of California, Berkeley
OccupationUniversity president
Military service
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
Years of service1917–1953
UnitCorps of Engineers
Battles/warsWorld War I
World War II
AwardsCroix de Guerre

Dr. Blake Ragsdale Van Leer (August 16, 1893 – January 23, 1956) was an engineer and university professor who served as the fifth president of Georgia Institute of Technology from 1944 until his death in 1956.

Early life and education[edit]

Van Leer was born in Mangum, Oklahoma to Maurice Langhorne Van Leer and Mary McKee Tarleton.[1] After his father's death in 1897 he lived in a Masonic Orphanage in Fort Worth, Texas.[2] He graduated with honours from Purdue University in 1915 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. Also studied at University of Caen in France[3][4] In 1924 he married Ella Lillian Wall in Berkeley, California.[1]

Dean and officer[edit]

Van Leer was an U.S. Army officer and began his career as an engineer. During the World War I, he led engineering teams who built bridges in front of the main infantry to cross rivers and fought in 5 different battles. On one occasion his unit held an island for two days against enemy forces and several members of his unit were killed in action.[5] From 1932 to 1937, Van Leer was a Dean at the University of Florida.[6] In 1937 he became the Dean of the School of Engineering at NC State University.[7] While there he initiated as an honorary of the NCSU chapter of Theta Tau Professional Engineering Fraternity.[8] Around 1940, with the permission of Dean Harrelson, Van Leer gave half his time towards the North Carolina Office for Defense orders. He resigned his post as Dean in 1942 to take a military leave.[9] During the war he served as a U.S. Army officer (attaining the rank of colonel), after which he returned to lead the school.[1]

Georgia Tech[edit]

After World War II Van Leer returned to become the President of Georgia Tech. During his tenure the school admitted women for the first time.[10][11] He began allowing women to enroll in night school, after a failed vote to allow women into Georgia Tech, he attempted a second try and succeeded by split decision.[12] The first step towards integration was made during support for the 1956 Sugar Bowl game, Van Leer who was recorded giving frequent commence speeches at the all Black Morris Brown College, died after the event. Four years after his death an overwhelming majority of the 2,741 students present voted to endorse integration of qualified applicants, regardless of race.[13][14][11] Van Leer advocated women get into engineering later in his career as well.[15] During his time in office tech also became the largest engineering institute in the South and the third largest in the US and Canada.[10][11] Van Leer also had a focus on making Atlanta the "MIT of the South." throughout his career by lobbying major companies like Lockheed Corporation to expand to Atlanta.[16] In 1946 Van Leer was appointed as a member to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization who had a focus to work against racism through influential statements on race.[17][18]

Main entrance to the Van Leer Building on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology

Van Leer might be best known for events centered around the 1956 Sugar Bowl. He stood up to Georgia governor Marvin Griffin's demand to bar Bobby Grier from participating in the 1956 Sugar Bowl game between Georgia Tech and Grier's University of Pittsburgh.[19] He was also instrumental in making the school and Atlanta the first major research center in the American South.[1] Leading up to the game, Georgia governor Marvin Griffin, sent numerous telegrams to state's Board of Regents and press explaining why Georgia should not engage in racially integrated events which had blacks either as participants or in the stands. Van Leer would be summoned by The Board of Regents who commended Griffin for his stand on segregation.[20]

Van Leer was publicly quoted:

Either we’re going to the Sugar Bowl or you can find yourself another damn president of Georgia Tech.

The building that houses Tech's school of Electrical and Computer Engineering bears his name.[21][22]

Van Leer also founded Southern Polytechnic State University while president of Georgia Tech. The university merged into Kennesaw State University in 2015.[23]

Van Leer died of a heart attack on January 24, 1956, at the Atlanta Veterans Hospital.[24]

Personal life[edit]

All of Van Leer's children would graduate as engineers. Van Leer's daughter Maryly V. Peck also became an engineer[25] and college president. His son Blake Wayne Van Leer also became a high ranked officer for the United States Navy who was also an engineer.[26] His youngest son Samuel Van Leer graduated from Georgia Tech and was headmaster as several private schools.[27] Sam was quoted stating his dad "could imagine a Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech being anyone, he did not concern himself with race or gender, he was always progressive."[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Biography of Van Leer Family". Georgia Tech Library. Retrieved 2 July 2022.
  2. ^ "Beyond the Chain Link Lay the Kingdom of the Mighty Mites". Retrieved 2 July 2022.
  3. ^ "Campusonalities". The Georgia Tech Alumnus (January–February): 9. 1951. Retrieved 2 July 2022.
  4. ^ United States. Congress. House. Committee on Armed Services (1947). Full Committee Hearings on Universal Military Training. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 4333.
  5. ^ Full Committee Hearings on Universal Military Training. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1947.
  6. ^ "History of the ECE Department: 1930-1939". Archived from the original on 2010-06-03. Retrieved 2009-06-11.
  7. ^ "Van Leer, Blake Ragsdale, 1893-". NC State University Libraries. Retrieved 2 July 2022.
  8. ^ Georgia Tech's Auditorium Gymnasium (1944). "Col. Van Leer and Dr. Brittain Elected by Regent Board - Cont'd". The Georgia Tech Alumnus. March–April: 66.
  9. ^ "Guide to the North Carolina State University College of Engineering Annual Reports". Retrieved 2009-06-11.
  10. ^ a b "Women: 30 Years at Tech". Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Vol. 58, no. 1. Georgia Tech Alumni Association. 1982. pp. 9–13.
  11. ^ a b c McMath, p.282
  12. ^ The Campus History Series. Georgia Tech. 2018. p. 9. ISBN 9781467129602.
  13. ^ "Finding Aid for University of Georgia Integration Materials 1938–1965". University Archives. Retrieved February 17, 2013.
  14. ^ "Memphis World" (PDF). 1950-05-23. Retrieved 2022-07-17.
  15. ^ "PAY IN ENGINEERING VIEWED AS LAGGING". Timesmachine.nytimes.comhttp. Retrieved 17 July 2022.
  16. ^ Hair, William I. (1985). "Engineering the New South: Georgia Tech, 1885–1985". The Georgia Historical Quarterly. 69 (4): 509–517. JSTOR 40581436. Retrieved 2020-11-29.
  17. ^ "UNESCO. (1950). Statement by experts on race problems. Paris, 20 July 1950. UNESCO/SS/1. UNESDOC database" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 April 2012. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  18. ^ Summary Minutes of Meeting. United States National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 1956.
  19. ^ "Film to Focus on Georgia Tech, fight against segregation at 1956 Sugar Bowl". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 5 July 2022. Retrieved 6 July 2022.
  20. ^ "A Half Century Ago, Georgia Tech Made a Racial Stand That Changed College Football Forever". Retrieved 17 July 2022.
  21. ^ "Campus Map: Van Leer Building". Retrieved 2007-05-20.
  22. ^ Leflouria, Erika. "Film to focus on Georgia Tech, fight against segregation at 1956 Sugar Bowl". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  23. ^ "Kennesaw State and Southern Polytechnic Will Consolidate | Communications | University System of Georgia". Retrieved 2021-11-23.
  24. ^ "Blake Van Leer, Educator, Dead; Georgia Tech President Was 62--Barred Cancellation of Bowl Game Over Negro Hailed by Faculty Basketball Game Off". The New York Times. January 24, 1956.
  25. ^ "Mother's an Engineer". Life. 1962. pp. 102–106.
  26. ^ "Navy Civil Engineer, Volumes 11-12". 1970-04-14. Retrieved 2020-02-03.
  27. ^ Services, Asheville Mortuary. "Obituary for Samuel Wall Van Leer | Asheville Mortuary Services". Obituary for Samuel Wall Van Leer | Asheville Mortuary Services. Retrieved 2022-07-26.
  28. ^ Andreolle, Donna Spalding (1970). Women and Science, 17th Century to Present: Pioneers, Activists and Protagonists. Cambridge Scholars. ISBN 9781443830676.

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]