The Wrong Stuff — The Ed Dwight Story: John F. Kennedy’s Crusade to Find and Promote a “Negro Astronaut“…
Had John F. Kennedy not been assassinated, one of the first men to walk on the moon might have been a negro astronaut deliberately picked by his administration to be part of the astronaut training programing because he was a black man.
Had John F. Kennedy not been assassinated, his magical negro astronaut candidate, Capt. Ed Dwight, would have been the first man on the moon.
Sure, he had logged flight time and had an aeronautical engineering degree, but Capt. Ed Dwight’s primary skill-set was being one of the few qualified black men the Kennedy Administration could quickly promote into NASA astronaut candidate program.
His name was Ed Dwight.
His black skin qualified him for immediate promotion into the merit-based astronaut-training program that had been exclusively the hunting of white men who had earned their way there.
J. Alfred Phelps book They Had a Dream: The Story of African American Astronauts, includes a look at just how aggressive the Kennedy Administration was in promoting a negro astronaut:
It all began with a telephone call from the White House to the Department of Defense. There was no arrogance in the callers voice; only a simple question:
“Does the Air Force have any Negroes in the new aerospace research pilots’ course being set up at Edwards Air Force Baser in California?”
After what was probably an extended pause came the answer: “No, there aren’t any.”
It was an ordinary enough question, but the call came from an extraordinary source
Had it come from an ordinary White House, the reaction might have been mild, nothing more than grist for a workday tale some government employee could tell at a weekend gathering. But this call came from theKennedy White House, that place called “Camelot,” which had seen the beginning of civil rights”sit-ins” and had sent troops to get a black man into a university in the Deep South. it was a White House that had used its influence to gain Martin Luther King’s release from jail. perhaps the recipient of the call knew all of this and felt a bit like a person in a closed garage slowly filling with carbon monoxide. In any event, the reaction was predictable: something had better be done- and rather quickly. The innocuous-sounding call thus became something of an edict.
The air force swiftly launched a search for a black pilot with the right amount of flying time, the “right academic background, and one would could meet all the other stringent requirements.” Fortunately, air force personnel officers didn’t have to look too far, for it was about that time that Capt. Ed Dwight’s application reached them.
When you go looking for something, you can usually find it: even if it means passing over more qualified opportunities or individuals.