Dr. Henry Thomas Sampson, Jr.


  • Morehouse College
  • Purdue University
  • University of California Los Angeles
  • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Henry T. Thomas Sampson, Jr. was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and was a class of 1951 graduate of Lanier High School. He went on to attend Morehouse College before transferring to Purdue University. While at Purdue, he joined Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. and received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. In 1961, he graduated with an MS in engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles. Sampson also received an MS in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 1965, and his Ph.D. in 1967. He was the first African American to earn a PhD. in nuclear engineering in the United States.

Sampson served in the United States Navy from 1962 until 1964 as a research chemical engineer at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake U.S. Naval Weapons Center.  There, he worked with high-energy solid propellants and case bonding materials for solid rocket motors. Sampson also served as the Director of Mission Development and Operations of the Space Test Program at the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California.

From 1964 to 1967, he was the recipient of a United States Atomic Energy Commission Award for Excellent Service at the U.S. Naval Weapons Center. In 1982, he was awarded the Black Image Award from the Aerospace Corporation. He was awarded the Blacks in Engineering, Applied Science Award, and prize for education, by the Los Angeles Council of Black Professional Engineers in 1983. Sampson was associated with the Board of Directors of Los Angeles Southwest College Foundation and was a technical consultant to the Historical Black Colleges and Universities Program. 

His patents included a binder system for propellants and explosives and a case bonding system for cast composite propellants. Both inventions are related to solid rocket motors.  On July 6, 1971, he was awarded a patent with George H. Miley for a gamma-electrical cell, a device that generates auxiliary power from the shielding of a nuclear reactor.  Additionally, the patent cites the cell's function as a detector with self-power and construction cost advantages over previous detectors. 

In addition to his career as an inventor, Sampson was a noted film historian. He wrote the book Blacks in Black and White: A Source Book on Black Films, which examines often overlooked African American filmmakers from the first half of the 20th century. In addition, he wrote The Ghost Walks: A Chronological History of Blacks in Show Business. In 2005, he published Singin' on the Ether –Waves: A Chronological History of African Americans in Radio and Television Programming.

In 2011, Sampson donated his considerable collection of historical film memorabilia to Jackson State University. The collection is housed in the H.T. Sampson Library, named for his father, H. T. Sampson Sr., former executive dean of Jackson State University.