For the vast majority of us, Black History Month celebrations are generally devoted to events and individual achievements that have occurred in the distant past. We often forget that our history is as recent as things that happened only yesterday. The fact that this country elected its first black president less than 10 years ago gives a new perspective as to how we might view and celebrate Black History Month.
Even before several of the premiere institutions of higher learning in the Triangle became fully aware of the implementation, scope and the institutional implications of web technology, James Murrell, an African-American, became a singular voice extolling the benefits of this new and emerging technology.
Graduating in 1964 with a double major in physics and mathematics at N.C. Central University, Jim served a brief stint as the first African-American scientist recruited by the Research Triangle Institute International. Armed with extensive computing experience in modeling atmospheric and mid-air collision events, Murrell later joined the School of Public Health at UNC-CH as head of Computing and Data Management in the Department of Epidemiology. While at UNC-CH, he helped design and implement the first NC Vital Statistics information systems, as well as the first computerized information system for the Office of the N.C. Medical Examiner.
Murrell also studied biostatistics and taught data management during his tenure at the School of Public Health. Upon completing his doctoral course work, Jim spent several years in government and private industry as a biostatistician before returning to UNC-CH in 1985. One of the tasks given to him almost immediately was to organize and bring together the resources that would allow Internet technology to flourish at the school. As Internet-based research exploded around the world, he and his UNC-CH colleagues continued to develop ways to expand and modernize Internet services throughout the UNC-CH campus. He devoted much of his professional time to research that ultimately would become known as the "worldwide web."
During much of the 1990s and prior to Yahoo, Instagram and other online communication systems, Murrell established a procedure for interactively communicating via desktop with me. It was during this period that we collaborated to launch a precursor and text-based version of the web, dubbed Gopher, which was already in existence. Gopher was an Internet application in which text files could be placed on servers all over the world and then accessed from desktops employing direct or dial-up Internet connections. This early parent of web systems enabled students in my classes to conduct online research and instantly explore issues worldwide using desktop software.
These were heady times for commercial and educational organizations. In the case of academic institutions, many launched web pages, allowing would-be students to learn more about the institution, its curricula and academic services. During an important meeting of the N.C. Central University Board of Trustees in 1995, the discussion focused on new ways of communicating to prospective students using what was being referred to as the world-wide web.
By this time, I had become Dean of Graduate Studies at N.C. Central with close ties with then-Chancellor Julius Chambers. Practically no one knew, except the chancellor, that Murrell and I had begun to fashion the university's first official webpage.
Dr. Rudolph Jackson is a former Dean of Graduate Studies at N.C. Central University in Durham.