On the morning of January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after lifting off. All seven crew members were killed.
Ronald McNair was one of the astronauts aboard Challenger that day. A graduate of MIT who grew up in the small farming community of Lake City, South Carolina, McNair was only the second African-American to visit space.
His older brother, Carl, talked about how Ronald’s journey from the rural South to outer space began with an act of courage at the local public library.
Click here for the transcript.
Vernon Skipper: Ok.
CM: So, as he was walking in there, all these folks were staring at him -- because they were white folk only -- and they were looking at him and saying, you know, "Who is this negro?"
CM: So, he politely positioned himself in line to check out his books. Well, this old librarian, she says, "This library is not for coloreds." He said, "Well, I would like to check out these books." She says, "Young man, if you don't leave this library right now, I'm gonna call the police."
So he just propped himself up on the counter and sat there and said, "I'll wait."
So she called the police and subsequently called my mother. Police came down -- two burly guys come in and say, “Well, where's the disturbance?"
And she pointed to the little nine-year-old boy sitting up on the counter.
And he [the policeman] says, “Ma’am, what’s the problem?”
So, my mother -- in the meanwhile she was called -- she comes down there praying the whole way there, "Lordy, Jesus, please don't let them put my child in jail." And my mother asks the librarian, “What’s the problem?”
“He wanted to check out the books and, you know, your son shouldn’t be down here.”
And the police officer said, "You know, why don't you just give the kid the books?”
And my mother said, "He’ll take good care of them."
And reluctantly, the librarian gave Ron the books. And my mother said, "What do you say?" He said, "Thank you, ma'am."
Later on, as youngsters, a show came on TV called Star Trek. Now Star Trek showed the future where there were black folk and white folk working together.
CM: And, I just looked at it as science fiction cause that wasn’t going to happen, really. But Ronald saw it as science possibility. You know, he came up during a time when there was Neil Armstrong and all of those guys. So how was a colored boy from South Carolina, wearing glasses, never flew a plane, how was he gonna become an astronaut?
But Ron was someone who didn’t accept societal norms as being his norm, you know? That was for other people. And, um, he got to be aboard his own Starship Enterprise.