Grounding the Space Race

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Abstract

On July 15, 1969, while more than one million space enthusiasts flocked to Florida's Cape Canaveral to celebrate the final countdown of the Apollo 11 launch the following day, a less festive gathering took place just a few miles away in an empty field outside the western gate of the Kennedy Space Center. On one side of the clearing stood NASA's chief, Thomas O. Paine, with several space agency administrators, while at the other end waited the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's (SCLC) president, Ralph Abernathy, with twenty-five poor African American families, four scruffy mules pulling two rickety wagons, and, much to Paine's dismay, a phalanx of newspaper reporters and television news crews. When Abernathy's group began slowly marching hand-in-hand singing We Shall Overcome, Paine and his entourage walked forward to meet them in the middle of the field. Abernathy then took a microphone, nodded toward the Apollo 11 rocket towering in the distance, and explained that his Poor People's Campaign had not traveled to the cape to protest the Apollo launch, but instead to demonstrate against the country's distorted sense of national priorities. I want NASA scientists, he explained to the gathered press, to tackle problems we face in society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-146
Number of pages6
JournalModern American History
Volume1
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History

Keywords

  • Civil Rights
  • Nature and Environment
  • Post-1945
  • Social Movements and Protest
  • Urban
  • sScience and Technology

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