In an era of shattering glass ceilings, no story tells of overcoming adversity better than this captivating memoir. Paige Bowers and David Montague tell the incredible story of Raye Montague, the engineer credited with creating the first digital draft of a United States naval ship, in Overnight Code

From humble Little Rock roots sprouts Raye Montague, a Black woman who grew up in the Jim Crow-era south. The story opens with an expansive view of her upbringing, told through anecdotes passed down to her son, David. Chronicling her firsthand experience with racism and prejudice, the opening chapters set the scene for Raye’s life, which she spent overcoming obstacles to ultimately rise to the top of her industry — and being the first Black woman to do so. 

THE MOMENT THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING

As Raye’s remarkable life story progresses, the reader becomes acquainted with a pivotal moment in her professional career — Pearl Harbor. Recounting the day the United States entered World War II, the authors explain how this event incited a desire within Raye to explore a world outside of her Little Rock neighborhood. As equipment manufacturing plants overtook the small city, she was given a glimpse into how something created in her own backyard could one day lead the drive in defeating some of the strongest militaristic forces in the world. 

“For a curious little girl who was coming to terms with who she was and grappling with who she might become as the world was seemingly coming apart at the seams, these moments were a perfect way for her to fade into the woodwork and learn by listening to the adults speak. Their stories formed a vibrant patchwork quilt, like the ones that the enslaved once draped over their so-called master’s fences; the proud patterns came together in a way that not only looked beautiful, but also quietly pointed the way to freedom and a future.”

This passage precedes the explanation of the exact moment Raye knew that more resided in her future than a quiet life in Arkansas. She quickly abandoned a dream of one day becoming a concert pianist when her family began housing soldiers and FDR signed an executive order that strictly prohibited discrimination in the defense industry. While Arkansas had previously turned away Black workers vying for jobs in manufacturing plants, a once tightly closed door was flung wide open for Raye. In the words of her mother, Flossie, “you can do or be anything you want to be, provided you have a good education.”

TO AM&N AND BEYOND

As Raye came of age in the era of the Manhattan Project, she became aware of the powerful and brilliant women running the computer programs that controlled ballistic weapons, perhaps with greater finesse than the engineers who invented the programs. She later enrolled in Arkansas AM&N with the intent to become an engineer. While counselors and peers advised her to follow a business or teaching path instead, young Raye was vehemently determined. 

After receiving her degree, she worked midnight shifts for years, eventually developing a computer that ran hydrodynamic simulations for nuclear weapon design. Nicknamed the LARC, Raye’s passion for coding led her to develop the machine, which she confidently ran as a one-woman team. After working under the honorable Betty Holbertson, Raye was called to the United States main naval offices on a fateful day in 1970. In the interest of not spoiling this incredible story, I will allow you to read this stunning biography to find out what happened from here. 

Interspersed with David’s own stories of his upbringing on the hip of one of America’s greatest engineers, this story will most certainly inspire readers to reach for their greatest aspirations, no matter how unattainable they may seem. Rich with historical details and beautiful photographs of Raye throughout her life’s journey, Overnight Code is an absolute must-read. 

Learn more about co-author Paige Bowers on her BookTrib author profile page.

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Paige Bowers is the author of The General’s Niece: The Little-Known de Gaulle Who Fought to Free Occupied France. For the past few years, she has been working closely with Hidden Figure Raye Montague’s son, David, on the story of how his mother engineered her way out of the Jim Crow South to become the first person to draft a Naval ship design by computer. That book, Overnight Code: The Life of Raye Montague, the Woman Who Revolutionized Naval Engineeringwill be published by Lawrence Hill Books on January 12, 2021.

Dr. David R. Montague, the son of Raye Montague, is the director of online learning and faculty mentoring at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; he is also a tenured full professor of criminal justice. In his first career, he completed federal investigations for fourteen years in law enforcement and intelligence capacities working for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the United States JFK Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), and as a consultant on national security matters with US Investigations Services, Inc. He has presented research internationally at conferences in Austria, Slovenia, Germany, Holland, Trinidad, and Canada.