NASA and the Long Civil Rights Movement

NASA and the Long Civil Rights Movement


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Eugene M. Emme Astronautical Literature Award

As NASA prepared for the launch of Apollo 11 in July 1969, many African American leaders protested the billions of dollars used to fund “space joyrides” rather than help tackle poverty, inequality, and discrimination at home. This volume examines such tensions as well as the ways in which NASA’s goal of space exploration aligned with the cause of racial equality. It provides new insights into the complex relationship between the space program and the civil rights movement in the Jim Crow South and abroad.

Essays explore how thousands of jobs created during the space race offered new opportunities for minorities in places like Huntsville, Alabama, while at the same time segregation at NASA’s satellite tracking station in South Africa led to that facility’s closure. Other topics include black skepticism toward NASA’s framing of space exploration as “for the benefit of all mankind,” NASA’s track record in hiring women and minorities, and the efforts of black activists to increase minority access to education that would lead to greater participation in the space program. The volume also addresses how to best find and preserve archival evidence of African American contributions that are missing from narratives of space exploration.

NASA and the Long Civil Rights Movement offers important lessons from history as today’s activists grapple with the distance between social movements like Black Lives Matter and scientific ambitions such as NASA’s mission to Mars.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780813066202
Publisher: University Press of Florida
Publication date: 11/19/2019
Pages: 266
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Brian C. Odom is a historian at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Stephen P. Waring, chair of the Department of History at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is coauthor of Power to Explore: A History of Marshall Space Flight Center, 1960–1990.

Table of Contents


List of Figures

Foreword: “How We Tell About the Civil Rights Movement and Why It Matters”

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall

Introduction: Exploring NASA in the ‘Long’ Civil Rights Movement

Brian C. Odom and Stephen P. Waring

Part I. New Frameworks

1. Space History Matures—and Reaches a Crossroads

Margaret A. Weitekamp

2. Bringing Mankind to the Moon: The Human Rights Narrative in the Space Age

P.J. Blount and David Miguel Molina

3. Bringing the Moon to Mankind: The Civil Rights Narrative and the Space Age

David Miguel Molina and P.J. Blount

Part II. Southern Context

4. The Newest South: Race and Space on the Dixie Frontier

Brenda Plummer

5. “Accommodating the Forces of Change”: Civil Rights and Economic Development in Space Age Huntsville, Alabama

Matthew L. Downs

6. NASA, the Association of Huntsville Area Contractors, and Equal Employment Opportunity in the ‘Rocket City,’ 1963–1965

Brian C. Odom

Part III. International Context

7. Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez and Guion Bluford: The Last Cold War Race Battle

Cathleen Lewis

8. The Congressional Black Caucus and the Closure of NASA’s Satellite Tracking Station at Hartebeesthoek, South Africa

Keith Snedegar

Part IV. Broader Context

9. “A Competence Which Should Be Used”: NASA, Social Movements, and Social Problems in the 1970s

Cyrus C. M. Mody

10. The Gates of Opportunity: NASA, Black Activism, and Educational Access

Eric Fenrich

11. “Petite Engineer Likes Math, Music”

Christina K. Roberts

Conclusion: “And Where Do We Go from Here?” Ensuring the Past and Future History of Space

Jonathan Coopersmith

List of Contributors


What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Shines new light on a variety of civil rights topics within aerospace history.”—Steven Moss, coauthor of We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program

“The essays in this useful volume present a nice blend of social, cultural, and political history that provides new and exciting insights into the intersection of race and space.”—Kari Frederickson, author of Cold War Dixie: Militarization and Modernization in the American South

Customer Reviews