Richard Blackburn Black was born on August 10, 1902, in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He graduated from Grand Forks Central High School in 1921. He attended the University of North Dakota, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering in 1926. While at UND, Black was active with the Dakota Playmakers, the American Society for Civil Engineers, the Spanish Club, Scabbard and Blade, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the Young Men’s Christian Association, and the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
Following graduation, Black found work with various employers, including the North Dakota State Engineer’s Office, the Great Northern Railroad and Lake Shore Gold Mines. In 1933, he submitted an application to join Rear Admiral Richard Byrd’s second Antarctic Expedition. His application was accepted, and he spent 1933 to 1935 in Antarctica. He went back to Antarctica with Byrd again in 1939, as a member of the United States Antarctic Service Expedition. Black served as leader of the East Base, on the coast of the Palmer Peninsula.
In August 1941, Black was called to active duty in the United States Navy. He was stationed at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941. He served in various capacities in the Pacific Theater of the war, before being discharged on May 20, 1946. He was awarded both the Bronze Star and Presidential Unit Citation for his service in World War II.
Following the war, Black was employed by the U.S. government, helping to reconstruct the Micronesian Islands. In 1950, he was hired as prime contact between Johns Hopkins University and U.S. Army. His task was to study the establishment and maintenance of advance bases. As part of his duties, he was sent to Korea as part of the U.S. 8th Army, the main ground combat force of the United Nations.
Upon his return from the Korean War, Black took a position with the Office of Naval Research in February 1953. He again returned to the Antarctic with Admiral Byrd in 1955, as part of Operation Deep Freeze, a major scientific and exploratory expedition under the auspices of the Navy. Upon the death of Byrd in 1957, Black became the Officer-in-Charge of United States Antarctic Programs.
In 1962, Black retired from the Navy Reserves and was promoted to Rear Admiral due to his wartime service. He continued in various positions at the Office of Naval Research until his retirement in 1967.
Black was honored by UND in 1958, when he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree. He also received the Alumni Association’s highest honor, the Sioux Award, in 1984. Richard Blackburn Black died on August 11, 1992, at the Fernwood Nursing Home in Bethesda, Maryland.
The Richard B. Black Papers consist of a 1965 version of his resume, materials from the Byrd Antarctic Expedition II (1933-35), some of his poetry and writings, and newspaper and magazine articles.
The materials from the Byrd Antarctic Expedition II include a book entitled Railroad Construction: Theory and Practice. This book was abandoned in Little America by the first Byrd Antarctic Expedition, and recovered by the second expedition. Several scientific reporting forms, a memo outlining food and equipment usage, and a small card outlining the Little America telephone system, are also included.
The writings include an excerpt Black composed for the book Advance Agents of American Destiny; a memorial for Admiral Black published in The Geographical Review; “Barkentine Bear,” a poem written about a polar exploration vessel which appeared in Naval Research Review; and a short essay about his historic home in Virginia, Rippon Lodge.
Two photographs of Richard B. Black were separated and placed in the Photograph File Cabinets.