"The first day of school opened my eyes," said Gloria Ray, who entered Central High School as a junior. "I hadn't been brought up to accept being less than equal. I had not been brought up to accept not being allowed to pursue education" (source).
Education was important in the Ray home. Gloria's father had worked with George Washington Carver and founded the Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service for N****es. Her mother was a sociologist, but when she refused to take Gloria out of Central High, she lost her job with the state of Arkansas.
Ray made it through the year at Central but finished her high school education in Kansas City, Missouri. She then pursued a chemistry degree at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which had just recently allowed women to study any subject they wanted. "That's where I got confronted with discrimination as a woman for the first time," Ray remembered (source).
But she persevered and eventually worked for the aircraft manufacturers Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas. She also worked for NASA before moving with her husband to Sweden. There she founded the Computers in Industry journal, serving as its editor in chief, and worked in various capacities for IBM.
Ray is proud of the Little Rock Nine, but the memories of that year are difficult. "When the soldiers blocked my entrance to the school […] Gloria Ray, the child, ceased to exist at that moment," she said.
"I see there the girl who thought that she would be welcomed to the Central High School and was rejected in a way that was beyond her imagination from the community that she lived in all of her life. […] I try actually not even to look at those old pictures, because it's a lost childhood to me" (source).
An African American in a white Southern school and a woman in the sciences and computers—it seems like no barrier was too high for Ray. In 1999, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bill Clinton.