“You’ll have three strikes against you,” her mother, Flossie (Graves) Jordan, told her, Ms. Montague recalled last year in an interview on the ABC program “Good Morning America.” “You’re female, you’re black and you’ll have a Southern segregated school education. But you can be or do anything you want, provided you’re educated.”
Raye Jean Jordan was born in Little Rock on Jan. 21, 1935. Her father, Rayford Jordan, was not in the picture for long, and her mother raised her on her income from a cosmetology business. Ms. Montague graduated from Merrill High School in Pine Bluff, Ark., in 1952.
A bright student who loved science and math, she wanted to study engineering at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. But because Arkansas colleges would not award such degrees to African-Americans in those days, she attended Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical & Normal College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff). She graduated in 1956 with a degree in business.
Still determined to become an engineer, she headed to Washington and secured a job with the Navy as a clerk-typist. She worked her way up, becoming a digital computer systems operator and a computer systems analyst in a male-dominated field.
“I worked with guys who had graduated from Yale and Harvard with engineering degrees and people who had worked on the Manhattan Project developing the atom bomb,” Ms. Montague told The Democrat-Gazette.
She took computer programming at night school and after a year asked for a promotion.
Her boss, by her account, told her that if she wanted a promotion, she would have to work nights. That was tough for her. There was no public transportation at night, and she didn’t have a car. In fact, she didn’t know how to drive.