Dr. Reatha Clark King

Reatha Clark King


As a child in Georgia, Reatha Clark King picked cotton for $6 a day to help her family make ends meet. Long days in the hot sun was her motivation for something better. Says King, “There is nothing that motivates you like hard work in the cotton field. I recall being 12 years old and picking 200 pounds of cotton… when we had a rest break, I would write my multiplication tables in the sand.”   Fortunately, she was encouraged by her family and church, to pursue her education. From her start in a one-room schoolhouse in the segregated South, she earned a Ph.D. in chemistry by the time she was 25.  

After graduation, Reatha worked as a principal investigator at the Bureau of Standards becoming the agency’s first black female chemist. She was contracted to work with NASA for four years where she developed the fuel formula for Apollo 11. It was a dangerous job. She said of lift-off day, “I feared an explosion could happen, and the astronauts could lose their life. When I heard the first astronaut speak, it was pure joy. I said, ‘oh thank you, God.’”

Despite all of the awards and accomplishments in her life, her greatest joy is speaking to children and encouraging the next generation.