tv Richard Paul and Steven Moss on We Could Not Fail CSPAN February 25, 2017 4:03pm-4:46pm EST
feature on american history tv and find their tv schedule. connect with us and follow us on twitter and facebook. this is american history tv, only an c-span3. > american history tv, authors richard paul and stephen moss present their book " we cannot fail, the first african-americans in the space program. " the presenters explore the ways that these african-americans overcame adversity to promote social change. this 45 minute event was recorded at book people a bookstore in austin texas. we are here to talk about our book.
it looks at nasa's role in civil rights in the years before the civil rights act pass. before the civil rights act passed discrimination was not against of law. it was legal to say no, you cannot use this toilet, you are black or you cannot come into this restaurant, you are black and that is an important distinction that will become even more important as we talk about the achievements of some of the people in this book. we will be talking about the rules put in place by the tonedy administration address discrimination and how they were implemented by nasa and its contractors. we will be talking about the people whose lives were touched those rules. our books tell the story of men most of them who came to work at the program during the civil some were nasa employees and some of them worked for contractors.
president kennedy was forced into dealing with outerspace at the same time and forced into dealing with civil rights. these are not things he talked about during the campaign. he did not bring up either of these issues during the campaign. there was a sequence of events, time, space and civil rights together that all happened over the course of six weeks in 1961. yuri -- becomes the first human being in space and the soviet union is now one this important cold war victory. 20 it becomes clear that the bay of pigs has failed. baseoviet union now has a essentially 90 miles off of florida. then it becomes clear that the bay of pigs has failed and the president calls vice president johnson, the chairman of the space council and asks him to come up with something fast for
space, because space will be the hail mary pass it will change the subject and divert everybody's attention from the loss of cuba. may fifth alan shepard becomes the first american in space, may 14, nine days later, the freedom ride starts. the freedom rides, seven blacks, six white people get into a bus and head for watching to induce the headed for new orleans with whites in the next seat and the blacks in the front and head down south and on may 24 their bus is fire on in alabama. that is may 24. may 25, the next day president kennedy said we will put a man on the moon levy ends a decade. a week later mob's right in montgomery alabama and the governor of alabama declares martial law and president kandi is now thrown in with both feet into civil rights and the space program.
nasa is about to start hiring 250,000 new people in alabama, texas, florida, mississippi and louisiana, so that in part, the fact that this is in the heart of the gym throw so is going to mean -- jim crow south. >> now that richard has everyone excited i get hiring policy. so the president signed the order in 1961. he did this because he understood the political realities of his time, he could not get civil rights or congress so he had to do something to her executive power. he did an executive order. in this slide it shows how the order affected federal agencies and their contractors.
the order was issued if covered 38,000 contractors. the impact of the antidiscrimination clauses was in men's. at the time, nasa -- was in minutes. it's mission group. so do the importance of this -- on affairs. lyndon johnson believed there was a link between southern poverty and southern racism. if an activist federal government could solve one it could solve the other and --nsform the south away from and towards technology, bringing it into the social and economic mainstream. in someommon knowledge african-american communities that johnson intended to use the space program to reconstruct the south during johnson was not shy about promoting this idea. after kennedy placed him at the heads of both the national space
eceo he foundhe himself in a position to implement his plan. it required federal contractors to be equal opportunity employers. this was the first time this would happen. national firms with connections to the marshall space flight toter in alabama began advertise for engineers and technicians. nasa contracted proclaimed compliant.to be eeo not every inventor embraced the order. in july of 1961, houston power and light cut power to the pelican island destroyer base in galveston, texas, jeopardy sink uses hope to host the manned flight center. the company objected to the inclusion of an antidiscrimination clause in its contract with the navy. vice president johnson called
,lbert thomas and told him shall i tell the president you cannot supply power to the navy? two eight navy installations there, because of the negro question there. what are you going to do about space? the navy got its power and houston remained a viable site candidate. this is just one of the several brushes that houston would have with civil rights in the space age and richard has one of the other ones. made his mostnt moving space about each at rice university. he did not do it there by accident. riceice institute became university in 1960 and the school's president, whenever nasa would come to houston heat when be there to her guy. it was kenneth pitzer's desire to get nasa to put mission
control in houston. the school's president, he arranged for humble oil, gave rice1000 acres and promised the land to nasa for the manned space center. this is what ted this gales and put mission control in houston. money,ange in 1962 some because prices original 1891 bequest provided for the free instruction of white texas. with federal money involved that was not going to work. the board of trustees at rice had no appetite for segregation, but they did file a lawsuit to change rice's charter and admit black students. they filed a separate suit to remove the words right and three
and wet -- free and when they did that a group of alumni screamed bloody murder and they filed an intervention complete. nasais relationship with hung in the balance until 1965, when a ruling was made. the experience with bryce was typical of the problems that -- face as it interrupted with the southern facilities and steve has more on that now. national academy of sciences did an evaluation of a community's -- these communities and the 60's and there was a believe that that technological advancement will lead to major social change. typesities with advanced of industries, with their people employed in research laboratories and in the of engineering
techniques should display a high level of social and innovation. they named a peter. to the space community to see if that was to spirit it was not. -- to see if it was true. it was not. the space program brought socially liberal rocket scientist to the south. it did not do that either. . found that the space centers recruit from technicians and tech knowledge he raced in the cell. the personnel of the huntsville center said 50% of its employees can from alabama. he found the same was to educate canaveral in florida. found book, mary holman the same thing. of the people working in huntsville in 1950 work in the area in 1960. nearly 18% work elsewhere in
30% of the labor force was out of state. in florida, she found that 28% employed in brevard county in 1965 worked outside of florida in 1960. wrote or -- dodd seems to be no strong pressure for equal rights. negroes appeared to be an outside group presenting demands which would have to be dealt which areme way but no concern of theirs. playinge this attitude out in the stories of the men who will we tell in the book. we will tell a few of these stories. one there was a man named julius montgomery. the first african-american ever hired as anything other than a janitor at
cape canaveral. hired as was known as a range rat. if a missile misfired the range get the missile and figure out what went wrong and fix it. he was hired in the 50's at a time when the clue clucks clan -- locallucks clan klanessmen joined the almost, is what julius montgomery faced on his first day at work. >> nobody would shake my hand. i got to the last fellow. are you i am julius montgomery. they said boy, you don't talk to a white man like that. i said oh forgive me oh great
white pastor. --bastard. then he and i laughed and we shook hands. in addition to being the first african american professional, he also integrated a southern college. we hear stories about the internet -- integration of youhern colleges, i know have not heard the story of the florida institute of tech knowledge -- technology. its first building was in a public junior high school. because it was a public high school -- junior high school it meant blacks were not allowed in. julie is signed up to be in they first class and the superintendent of schools, when he saw that a black man who had wasen his undergraduate
trying to enroll sheet called the president of the college and told him to school would not open is julius montgomery was a student there. president of the college bagged montgomery to please drop out of the school so the school could open. in an act of what i consider to selflessness, he agreed. he enrolled a year later and the school did open, they did allow him in a year later and now the florida institute of technology offers the julius montgomery high in your award to an african american who has made a contribution to the community to thank him. not everyone in our book worked for the space program. this involves men who used the space program, space age imagery to achieve a civil rights victory in houston. going from coast to coast
here. 1963.s in the three men who are instrumental in using houston's space politics to advance racial politics were quick mise, a leader in the black community and the executive director of the back the street ymca. he went let student protesters from southern university use it as a headquarters. another was elderly stern's, a political activist, the first president and cofounder of the progressive use association. he helped to organize the 1960 one to counter sit inns in houston. , a lawm was otis king student at tsg at the time, he helped with the 1960 six and's and code found it the
progressive youth association. police officers in birmingham, alabama used dogs and fire hoses arrestedters and people. angered by these events, stearns and king began to plan what is arguably the most successful civil rights and has that ever happened. may 15, gordon cooper leaves hour for 34 and a half space flight. houston, the home of the astronauts planned a parade during the downtown for cooper on may 23. the plan, from otis king and stearns, have protesters infiltrate the crowd along the parade route and on the appointed time and signal they pulled signs out from underneath
their clothing, run into the street, stop the parade, and bring national media attention to their cause. all of the networks are going to be there covering this parade it live. on the day of the parade, the pya protesters took their places. the parade route and they kept and i out for the nearest payphone to call headquarters. morningn audience this where nobody knew what payphones were. runners would go from the funds and receive calls from headquarters and go up to people on the side of the parade route and whisper instructions. meanwhile, king and stearns and the other leaders went to their headquarters at the wheeler avenue baptist church, which have been recently opened by pastor bill lawson.
the parade is set to begin at 11 goodbye 10:30 the staging area said children are holding american flags, lining the parade route with their parents, ,eople are in buildings negotiations still went on. at 10:40, 20 minutes before the protesters reach their failsafe, mise calls of the church, the pya went on. the parade went on without protest and 30 days later without fanfare downtown restaurants and movie theaters desegregated. two years later, in april of 1960 five, black leaders with the help of high school students from texas southern university and the university of houston organized 2000 blacks for a protest march against gradual desegregation. they turned houston's space age of symbolism against the city
was sign that read, space age houston, stone age schools. another pioneer called frank crosley. he never worked for nasa about the work he did developing alloys for the skins of rockets and missiles was vital to nasa's success to you was one of the u.s. navy's first black officers during world war ii. after the war he decided on a career in engineering. his family said no, become a doctor or maybe a lawyer. he said he was going to become an engineer. as a black man in america at that time, he knew he always needed to have a plan b. couldn't get a job as an engineer, i would either go to canada or mexico. canada had the virtue of
speaking english and mexico had the virtue of having colored people. ofhe said his chances getting a job in the u.s. as a black man were 50-50. equal the terms opportunity and affirmative action are commonplace. that was not the case in 1969 illustrates hey was refused a management job because of his race. his mentor challenged this decision. he said you cannot do that. we are an equal opportunity employer. he said when he heard those words he jumped up, he never equalthe phrase, opportunity employer before. this is an example of equal employment having a role in a person's life. despite being a person's -- the first person to ever receive a phd in metallurgical
engineering,, this is how he described a talk he said he had more than once with a supervisor. qualified, because you are a negro we thought you were content. because you're so advance for a negro. fixing racial equality and the work place was going to take -- i'm sorry now i see it. nasa's first co-op students from a black college came from southern use of mercy -- university of baton rouge. it caused a sensation in the black press. this is the headline, negro college youth to boost first moviegoer into over --moongoer i orbit.
in achievement for african americans as a whole, the space program was america's single accomplishment at this time, and this showed that the black community was going to help get america to the moon. -- this wasst the the new york times. it called the young men social pioneers. it also said that nasa was having trouble recruiting african-american engineers, and the experience of the co-op students had in alabama demonstrates why that was the case. tommy , frank williams, george boorda and morgan watson did in the book we talk with george boorda and with morgan watson. the co-op's experience demonstrated the problems. when they got to alabama, no one would rent them a hotel room, morgan wallace said all the guys went to a rate -- concert date
-- ray charles concert. down one aisle and blacks on the other. he said the same thing happened at the muhammad ali sonny liston fight. a rope right down the middle of the field with blacks on one side and whites on the other. nasa inter at huntsville got the young men homes in the black community in huntsville, and that is where they lived during their time there. despite nasa's efforts to integrate its workforce, this is the way things work at nasa at the time the students got there, according to morgan watson. thereon't even think there were any clerical workers. i remember ground workers and janitors. the young menbout walking to the nasa facility one
day and somebody said excuse me are you visiting dignitaries from africa? them that occurred to black americans could be working at nasa. morgan watson said the young man felt the expectations >> that the black press and placed on them. we went out of our way to study and work hard and do whatever it image ofe thought the black people were writing on us as professionals. we could not fail. we had to do our best. >> well nasa struggled to hire 19e african-americans, the 64 presidential election provided a new political challenge that engulfed the agency in the marshall center. web announcedator in late october that huntsville management personnel white meat -- might be transferred to new orleans or even california. how much of his statement had to do with race is a matter of conjecture.
we do know that qualified blacks and whites refused jobs at marshall because of alabama sprays laws is. the state's reputation for -- contributedin to retention problems also. the threat to move as a political statement. where it was meant to scare voters in alabama or encourage it elsewhere remains a mystery. it did scare the huntsville business community. dunn, the president of the home builders association of huntsville telegraphed the white house within days of web's announcement to report that financial institutions had stopped construction loans. republican national chairman dean burch likened dean's -- labs statements to political blackmail. they gave the story front-page coverage.
they said this would teach george wallace that he is free to curse and dam the central government and have all the states rights it wants in , but he cannot have his cake and either two. it too.at werner from brown, the head of the marshall center, the former nazi and the former head of hitler's missile program became the point man on civil rights in alabama. laughed also. in november, in a move demonstrating new federal activism on new civil rights, nasa sent von brown to mills college in fresno. this was no ordinary place.
it served as the intellectual nerve center for the black community during the birmingham unrest. that wasn't the only time that he's stepped up in the cause of race relations. in december of 64 speech to the huntsville chamber of commerce here right requested that attendees he went on to urge everyone to themselves with the equal opportunity section of the civil rights act of 1964, themse equal and the rights afforded and obligations imposed by its provisions. today we have only really scratched the surface of the information in our book. there are a number of different stories we didn't tell. the story about a nasa employee who revised and governed a defunct town.
houston in the schoolhouse door was supposed to have been in huntsville, a direct challenge to the federal power that nasa represented, and to an agency employee who wanted to take a math class. we didn't tell the story of the first would be african-american pastor, for -- african-american astronaut or inventor of the first telescope placed in another planetary body. there is an important question to ask, which is did any of this matter? did it have a positive impact? nasa'swatson, one of first black engineers, said it certainly didn't. >> get certainly -- it certainly did. >> it laid the groundwork for the military arm for blacks to be integrated into the workplace by showing there were black professionals that could do that.
usually people were available that could do it. it helped break the walls down. you change the perception of black people in the south. >> president kennedy said america had to pursue a green because there was new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be one for the people. -- won for the people. he was not talking about american race relations when he said that, but a coincidence majority that the program would win rights for african-americans in a way that the president could not imagine. helps the space program white americans gain knowledge about their black fellow citizens and abilities. thank you very much. we are happy to take questions. [applause] i am told for c-span, there is a microphone.
if you have a question, reason or hand, and someone will come to you with the microphone. any questions? yes? >> guys are profiling blackman. is black women a topic in your book? ofthere was an extra layer -- an extra degree of difficulty when it comes to african-american women. all of the documents that i found in looking at the nasa equal employment materials would say things like, well, we women from110 negro alabama a&m and we gave them the typing test, and none of them passed. it never occurred to them that women might be mathematicians, might have engineering skills. i did a documentary on the first african-american program, one of the places where this got
started. i also did one of the first women . one that i talked to said she wanted to go to emory university to study unit test to study engineering. engineering.udy number one, it didn't occur to anybody at nasa to be anything other than typists. they might not have been able to. it was an extra hurdle to get over. it was tough to be african-american, but to be a woman on top of that-- ofthere were some facilities -- they were nonclinical. that is a double discrimination area. first, the african-american issue. second, women were largely
confined to clerical secretarial jobs within most federal agencies. definitely within nasa. even into the 1970's, if you look at the demographics, women were not really looking -- were not really working in hard sciences. they were in additional sciences. -- in nutritional sciences. trying to enter the nasa workforce as an engineer is a rarity, and phases and almost interview, given the nature of the time. it should not excuse the nature of the time. as richard sent, it is almost conceivable that anyone would have hired that person, if that person had even come along. idea, in 1963 and
were 11ere african-americans employed by nasa at cape canaveral. 11 out of 1500 employees. at mississippi in 1955, there were zero nasa african-american employees, but 750 african-americans employed by nasa contractors. we don't know if they were all male or female. given the discrimination practices at the time, and gender issues, it would not be until the 1970's and 1980's that women made an impact. do we have any other questions? >> one of the interesting things
about the story is von brown's involvement. can you talk about how he got involved in the first place? i know this would have been 18-20 years after the end of world war ii. how did he get involved with n asa, the u.s. government in the first place? how was he brought in? he seems like an unlikely ally. >> at the end of the second world war, there was a scramble by the americans and soviets to see who was going to get hold of the best german rocket scientists. the nazis were really advanced. the germans were really advanced with rockets and missiles. all of the best scientists were german. scramble a desperate between the americans. there is a great people out from
harvard university called "german rocket years in the keteers inixie -- roc the heart of dixie." it tells the story really well. andamericans got von brown, a lot of his key men, and shipped them off first to texas. >> i think first they were in new mexico. richard: they lived in texas, then settled in huntsville, alabama. in the 1950's, when the eisenhower administration is finally convinced through a lot of arm-twisting to start a isilian program, von brown put in charge of what becomes the marshall space flight center, where rockets are built and tested. von brown is a very significant
person in huntsville, alabama. stephen, you talked in your original paper about the influence that the germans had. >> i don't want to say it was a civilizing effect on huntsville. but they brought a european cosmopolitan cents to the community. -- sense to the community. if you talk to people that were there at the time and read reports from the mayor, the germans saved huntsville and created this whole culture. that helped a lot as huntsville became more progressive relative to the rest of alabama in the 1950's and 1960's. nasa'swn is central to success as an engineer, and central to their success in standing up to george wallace. there was no federal politician that had that credibility to people in alabama.
not president kennedy, not attorney general kennedy, not later president johnson, this is von brown. she has gone to the legislature several times to get money for universities, research centers. this was von brown. he was one of us. when he starts standing up to george wallace and the alabama legislature on race issues, that means something. he is not a yankee, he is not someone from somewhere else. he is not a washington bureaucrat. he is a guy from huntsville. if you ever get a chance to read the hate mail that he received, there were a lot of people who wrote him, bringing up his past during the war and said, we thought you understood us. essentially calling him a race traitor for standing up and navigating civil rights here in
alabama. his was an evolution. whether he was truly a civil libertarian,ivil had seen the light or been converted, or just wanted to build rockets and would say or do whatever would clear that path -- depends on which biography you want to read, and who you want to believe. [laughter] there are some great biographies. >> we have a story in the book, of -- when george wallace was preparing to run for president decides he is going to invite the national press to come along on what he calls "the real alabama" tour. makes the decision to come
to nasa, because he loves to say, look what i brought to alabama. minute he at the last is going to come along with this country of national press. -- this cadre of national press. he decides to bring the entire alabama legislature along with him. von brown's biographer gave me a transcript -- von brown's home was bugged. it was a conversation between von brown, jim webb, the head of nasa, and the inter-ballistic missile agency. talking about, how are we going to box out george wallace? how are we going to turn the tables on him and make this a necessary and rather than a george wallace event? it is von brown who comes up with the idea, why don't we have a saturn five engine test?
if you have ever seen a rocket launch, and engine test is a rocket launch, except the rocket never leaves the launchpad. they struck it down, it has the countdown and the tension and the flames and the noise, and the rocket just sits there. von brown says, we will have a saturn five engine test. we will panel all of the alabama legislature where they can't go for security reasons. and when they are all sitting there, we will go over and talk to them. and so they had the rocket test. george wallace is there. the national press is there. after the engine test is done, webb and von brown lecture george wallace and the alabama legislature about civil rights. that was the number one story in the newspaper. george wallace had a press conference, someone asked him any questions.
about this.care about this. -- no one asked him any questions. nobody had the gravitas, in who had done as much for alabama, and could step in and take on some unlike george wallace -- there was no one like von brown to do that. host: on history bookshelf, here from the country's best-known history writers from the past decade every saturday at 4:00 p.m. eastern. watch any of our programs anytime when you visit www.c-span.org/history. you are watching american history tv. all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. >> authorn history tv, a describes his lifelong interest in museums and historic sites with the brooklyn historical society president.
the conversation focuses on his new book "curating america: journeys through story scapes over the past." over the past 45 years, richard developed exhibits and new museums over the entire united states. this 75 minute program is hosted by the brooklyn historical society. sunday 29 will be the 50th anniversary of a trip i tired, a disgruntled, bored graduate student in history. i went out to an outdoor history museum in central massachusetts called old sturbridge village. some of you have been there. it was a day like today, but 30 degrees colder. instead of rain, it was a lot of snow. i pretty much had tho