tv Book Discussion on We Could Not Fail CSPAN August 8, 2015 1:15pm-2:01pm EDT
it's a available record of the world being about to change with nobody knowing. >> you could watch this and other programs online at booktv.org. >> now coauthors richard paul and steven moss talk about ten african american who broke the barriers in nasa. [applause] >> thank you, i'm richard paul and steven will be up when it's time for his presentation. we're here to talk about our book. we could not fail the first african americans in the face program. nasa's role in civil rights before the civil rights act passed -- that's an important distinction. discrimination was not against
the law. it was legal you can't use this because you're black. it's an important distinction that will become more so as we talk about achievements of the people in this book. when we talk about the rules put in placed by the kennedy administration and how they were influenced by nasa and contractors. our book tells the story that ten men, most people that came to work in the space program in the year that we call the civil rights era, some of them went after employees and some contractors. kennedy was forced to deal with civil rights. these are not things that he talked about the campaign. he didn't bring either of these
issues but there was a sequence of events that all happened during the course about six weeks in 1961. i'm talking about them. april 12th, first human being in space and the solve --soviet union, first than the united states. soviet union now has essentially 90 miles off of florida. when it becomes clear, president kennedy calls vice president johnson who is the chairman of the space counsel and asked him to come up with something fast in space, because space is going to be the big hail mary.
alan shepherd becomes the first american in space. seven black, six white young people get into a bus headed for new orleans with the whites in the back seat and the blacks in the front and on may 24th the bus is fire bombed in alabama. may 25th the next day president kennedy said we are going to put a man in the moon by the indicate of the decade. the governor of alabama declared marshall law and president kennedy is thrown in with both feet into civil rights and the space program. nasa is about to start hiring 250,000 new people principally in alabama, texas, florida, mississippi and louisiana, so that in part the fact that this is in the heart of south is going to mean that african
americans are going to have a role. steven has a piece of the story that guarantees that civil rights will be a part of the story. >> now that richard has everyone excited i get the firing policy. president kennedy signed executive order on march 6, 1961. he understood the political reality of his time. he couldn't get civil rights through congress. he had to do something through executive power. that's exactly what he did. executive order. it showed how it affected. it covered 38,000 contractors, the impact of the antidiscrimination clawses were a myth. at the time nasa was young
agency. as that happened, so did the importance of this order and pceeo on agency affairs. if a federal government could solve one it could solve the other and transform the south towards technology, thereby bringing it to the nation mainstream. it was common knowledge in african american communities that johnson intend today use the space program to reinstruct the south. johnson was not shy about promoting this idea. after kennedy placed him at the head of both the national space counsel and the p ceo the vice president found himself in a position to implement his plan. the president executive order required federal contractors to be equal opportunity employers, and this was the first time this
would happen. soon after kennedy announced plans to land on the moon, national firms with connections in alabama began to advertise and for engineering and technicians around the country. nasa contractors proclaimed themselves to be eeo compliant. but not every vendor embraced the order. in july of 1961 houston power and light destroyed the base in galveston, texas the government objected to inclusion of antidiscrimination clause and contract with the navy. shall i tell the president you cannot supply power to the navy? to a navy installation there because the negro question. and what are you going to do
about space? the navy got its tower and houston remained a viable site candidate. now this is just one of the several brushes that houston would have on silver rights in the space age and richard has one of the other ones. >> probably made his most moving speech. he did not do it at rice by accident. the rice institute became rice university in 1960 and the school's president was a man name kenneth. it was kenneth desire oh -- to get nasa control in houston. the school president, he arranged for a thousand acres near clear lake.
congressmen said this is what tipped the scales and put mission control in houston. in exchange in 1962 rice got some money from nasa and that's where the problem started because william original bequest provided for the free instruction of white texans. with federal money involved that just was not going to work. the board of trust -- they filed a separate suit. they filed an intervention plea. rice's relationship with nasa hung in the balance until 1965 when a ruling was finally made.
now the experience with rice was typical of the problems that nasa faced as it interacted with the southern facilities and steven has a little bit more on that note. >> the national academy of science did evaluation a principle state communities. there was a popular believe that technological advancement will lead. communities advanced types of industry with their people in laboratory and development of techniques should display a high level of social in innovation. it wasn't. many people then and still now
believe that the space program brought socially yankee scientists from the south. that didn't happen either. the personnel chief of the huntsville told him that 50% of the employees came from alabama. in their book the political economy of the space program, economist found very much the same thing. around 38% of the people working in huntsville in 1965 worked in the area in 1960, nearly 18% worked elsewhere in alabama. 30% of the labor force was from out of state, though largely from the south. in florida she found that about 28% of people em em em --
employed in brevard county. negroes appeared to be an outside group presenting demands which would have to be dealt with in some way, but which are no concern of theirs. >> with the attitude playing out in the stories of the men we play in the book, one of them is a man name juliasmont montgomer. he was hired as what was known as range rat. what that was, if a missile misfired, the range would go and get the missile and figure out
what went wrong and fix it. he was hired in mid-90s at the time when the kukluxklan joined. >> nobody would shake my hand. i got to the last fellow. [laughs] >> hi, how are you? and boy, you don't talk to a white man like that. i said, oh, forgive me bastard. [laughs] >> he laughed, i laughed and then we shook hands. >> now in addition to being the
first african american professional montgomery integrated a southern college. we hear a lot of stories in the civil rights literature. i know you had no heard the story which was founded in 1959 at brevard engineering college. its first building was in a public junior high school. blacks were not allowed in. montgomery signed up to be in the first class of brevard engineering college and superindependent schools when they saw that a black man got under graduate was trying to enroll in the college he called the president of the new college and told him that the school would not open if montgomery was a student there. the president of the college begged montgomery to please
develop out of the school so that the school could open. in an act that i consider to be immense selflessness, the school did open, they did allow him in a year later and now the florida institute of technology every year offers the montgomery pioneer award to an african american that has made contribution to the community. the next involved three men to achieve a civil rights victory in houston. >> now, this is in 1963 and the three men who were instrumental in using houston space politics to advance racial politics were
the leaders of the black community. he would led students protest from texas southern university use headquarters during events. he was political activist and student organizer, first president and cofounder of progressive youth association. he also helped organize the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins in houston. they started planning something in may third in 1963 when police officers in birmingham, alabama used fire hoses.
may 15th gordon cooper the astronaut leaves earth for a 34 and a half hour space flight and that's the longest ever taken by an american. houston the home of the astronauts planned a parade for cooper on may 23rd. so the plan from odis king and stern have protestors infiltrate the crowds along the parade routes. they pull signs from underneath the clothes and run into the street and stop the parade and bring national media attention to their cause because all of the networks were going to be there covering the parade live. on the day of the parade the tya
took their places, they hid homemade signs and kept an eye to the nearest pay phone to call headquarters. we had an audience this morning where nobody knew what pay phones were. runners would go to the phone and receive calls, and they would go to the people and whisper instructions. meanwhile king and stern went to headquarters at the willow avenue baptist church which had recently been opened. the parade is set to begin by 11:00 a.m., by 10:30 children are holding american flags, people are in buildings ready to shower down paper and
negotiation still went on. then at 10:40:20 minutes before, they call the church. parade wept on without protest and 30 days later without press coverage or fanfare. two years later in april of 1965 black leaders with the help of high school students, students from texas southern university and the university of houston organized 2,000 blacks for a protest march against gradual. >> who we talk about in the book is a man name frank crowely. he never worked for nasa but the
work that he did developing alloys was successful. one of the first black officers during world war ii. after the war he decided on a career in engineering. his family said, no, become a doctor, maybe become a lawyer. he said he was going to become an engineer. but as a black man in america at that time he knew he always needed to have a plan. >> i would either go to canada or méxico. canada had the have you have yof speaking english and méxico having colored people.
>> that was not the case in 1961. he was refused in management job because of his race and mentor challenged the decision saying, you cannot do that. we an equal opportunity employer. when he heard those words he jumped up. he had never heard the phrase, equal opportunity employer before. this is an example of equal employment actually having a role in a person's life. despite being the first african american to ever receive a ph.d he would need more than once in his career. this is how he describes a talk that he had more than once with a supervisor.
>> we thought you were content because you so advanced to a negro. oh, i'm sorry. i've got something else to talk about. the first co-op students in southern university and when they started in nasa it caused a sensation in the black press, head line in the chicago defender. the black press saw these young men going to nasa as an achievement for the nation's african americans as a whole. the space program was américa's accomplishment and this shows that the black community was going to help get america to the moon. this was "the new york times".
they called the young men social pioneers. it also said that nasa was recruiting african american engineers to the south. the group colluded frank williams and morgan watson, and in the book we talk with p -- watson. no one would rent them a hotel room. they went to a concert in huntville. the world right down in the
middle of the field with the blacks on one side and the whites on another. an african recruiter got the young men homes in the black community and that's where they lived during their time there. despite nasa's effort to integrate to workforce this is the way things were at nasa according to to morgan watson. >> i don't think they were clerical workers, i remember ground keepers and janitors. they were no black professionals at all. he told a story about a young men walking in white shirts and skinny black ties. he said excuse me, are you visits from africa. watson said that the young men felt the expectation that the black press had placed upon
them. >> we went out of our way to study late, work hard and do whatever it took to what we felt that the whole imagine of black people were riding on us as professionals and we couldn't fail. we had to move forward and do our best. >> and well nasa struggled to hire more african americans the 1964 presidential election provided challenge in marshall nasa. nasa administer announced that personnel maybe transferred to new orleans or even the california. now how much of that statement had to do with race, it's all a matter of congestion. we do know that qualified whites and whites refused because of alabama's race law and the violent enforcement of those
laws. putting race aside, it was a political statement. whether it was to scare voters in alabama or encourage them elsewhere also remains a mystery. it did, however, scare the huntsville community. financial institutions had stopped construction plans. the baltimore african american gave story that a nasa transfer and subsequent loss would teach alabama george, have all the state rights in alabama but he
can't have his cake and eat it too. johnson won the election but lost alabama and other southern states. by late 1964, brown, the head of the marshall center, the normaller -- former nazi became nasa's point right. yeah, we did the same thing. we laughed too. [laughs] >> in november in a move demonstrate, mills college was no ordinary place. it served as the nerve center for the black community. that wasn't the only time that brown stepped out in the cause of race relation. in december 1964 speech he
requested that they ask themselves are they doing everything in your power to strive and improve racial relations in our city. he acknowledged that we could admit the fact. he went onto urge everyone to familiarize themselves with the equal opportunity section of the civil rights act of 1964 and the rights afforded and the obligations imposed by its provisions. >> now, tonight we only scratched the surface in our book. there are many other stories we didn't tell, the story about a nasa employee who degoverns a defunct town.
a direct challenge to the federal tower 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 astronauts or about the african american inventor of the first telescope ever placed on another planetary body. here is an important question to ask here, did any of this matter, did it have a positive impact? as far as he was concerned, it certainly did. >> it certainly help change not and nasa but the whole federal government. italiaed the ground by showing that there were black professionals that could do that, you prove the fact that people were available that could do it. it helped to break the walls
down. it helped change people's perception about black people in the south. president kennedy said that america had to pursue a space program because there was new knowledge to be gained and new rights to be won and use for the progress of all people. of course, he was not talking about american race relations when he said that. an accident of timing and coin -- coincidence -- and in doing so, the space program would help white americans gain new knowledge about black fellow citizens and their abilities. thank you very much and we're happy to take questions. [applause] >> i'm told that for c-span there's a microphone. if you have a question, raise your hand and someone will come
to you with a microphone. do we have any questions? yeah. >> you guys are profiling black men as black women as a topic in your book? >> there was an extra layer of -- a degree of difficulty when it comes to african american women. the -- all of the documents that i found in looking at the nasa employment, in equal employment materials would say that we brought in 110 negro women from alabama but did a typing test and nobody passed. engineer skills were difficult. i did a documentary, but i also did that in the same group about
the first woman in the space program. she had wanted to go to emerald university to study engineering, women were now allowed in engineering school. i mean, you couldn't go. and i think that that was the case in many other engineering schools around the country. so number one it didn't occur to anybody at nasa to ask to be anything than typists. but, you know, they might not have been able to -- i mean, it was an extra hurdle to get over. it was tough enough to be african american and to be a woman on top of that -- >> there were some instances of african american women in nonclerical, but that is a double discrimination area. first, the african american issue, and second, women were largely confined to clerical
jobs within most federal agencies. definitely within nasa, and even in the 1970s women worked -- were working in large numbers in sciences, they were in nutritional science and other things like that. an african american women try to go -- trying to enter the nasa workforce as an engineer is -- faces an almost impossible job interview given the nature of the time. that shouldn't excuse the nature of the time but as richard said, it's almost inconceivable that anyone would have hired that person if that person had come along. it was hard enough -- to give you an idea in 1963, 1964 and 65
there were 11 african americans ployed at -- employed from 1500 employees. in mississippi there was zero nasa african employees. now, we don't know if those are all male or female, but given the discrimination practices and gender issue, it would be until the 1970s, 1980s women started to make an impact. >> any other questions? yes? >> one of the interesting parts of the story i always think about brown's involvement, can you talk a little about how he
got involved in the first place? i know this would have been 18 to 20 years at the end of world war ii. how did he gave involved with nasa, how did he get involved with the government? how was he brought in? >> so at the end of the second world war there was a scramble by the americans and the soviets to see who was going to get ahold of the best german scientists. the nazis were really advanced with rockets and missiles and all of the scientists were germ -- germans. there was a book that tells a
story really, really well, and the americans got and a lot of his key men and shipped them off first to texas. >> i think first they were new mexico. >> new mexico, mission, texas and then alabama. in 1950s when the eisenhower administration is convinced to start a civilian space program, brown is put in charge of what is now -- what then becomes the marshall space flight center, a place where the rockets are built and tested. he's a very significant person in huntsville, alabama.
steven you talked in your original paper about the influence that the germans had. >> they had a civilizing effect on huntsville but they brought a european sense to the community. if you talk to people that were there at the time and read the reports from the major and -- mayor and all of that, germans save huntsville. that helped a lot as huntsville became much more progressive. von brown is essential to nasa's success as an engineer and standing up to george because 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. he has gone to the legislature several times to get money for universities, research centers. this was von brown. he was one of us, and when he start standing up to george on race issues, that means something. he's not a yankee, he's not somebody from some where else. he's a guy at 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 in the war, we thought you understood us. and essentially calling him a race trader for standing up and advocating civil rights here in alabama, so his was an
evolution. now whether he was truly -- he had seen the light or been converted or whether he just wanted to build rockets and he would say and do whatever clear that path. >> depends on which biography you want to read and who you want to believe. there's very good biographies. von brown is a wonderful place to start. >> yeah. >> and we have a story in the book, when he was preparing to run for president in 1968, gearing up to run for president and he decides that he's going to invite the national press to come along in something that he called the real alabama tour. he's going to show them the real alabama and not all the stuff that you hear in the media. he makes a decision to come to nasa because he loved -- look
what i brought to alabama, and he decides at the last minute that he is going to come along with this country of national press and makes a last-minute decision to bring the entire alabama legislature along with him. mike gave me a transcript. it's a conversation the head of nasa and also the head of the army ballistic missile talking about, how are we going to box out george and make this a nasa event rather than a george wallace event. why don't we have a saturn 5
engine test. the rocket never leaves the launch path. they strap it down. it has the countdown and flames and the rocket just sitz -- sits there. we'll have an engine test. we'll tell them it's for security reasons. when they're all sitting there, we'll go over and talk to them. they had the rocket test. the national press is there. after the engine test is done brown come in and lecture about civil rights and that was the number one story in the newspapers the next day. nobody asked any questions. we don't care about this.
this is -- but as steven said, there was nobody who had done as much for alabama and could step on and take on somebody like george wallace there was no one like von brown that was able to do that. any other questions? anyone? yes? >> all right, well, i just got the book, okay. it got me thinking. you're talking to these guys, were they all phone interviews or were you able to get face-to face-to-face time with them? >> yeah -- [laughs] >> i was able to -- i got a large grant from the national science foundation to create the
documentary and create a series of programs for kids, and so all who we would bring -- all of the men who we interviewed in book came up to washington for events. first of all, montgomery who was probably 89 at that point, i said, can you come. yeah, i can come but one thing, my girlfriend has to come with me. i said your girlfriend. yeah. she's 90. she don't get around too good. [laughs] >> his girlfriend and morgan watson. morgan watson, first african american engineer at nasa.
melvin who is african american and had just gotten back from the international space station like a week ago. you've got the whole legacy right up there at this table together. we had a q and a and we did an event. afterwards in the green room -- the guy is enormous. julis is not a big guy. he's there and talk to go him and talking about florida and stuff. julias says to him, you know, he told a story about the first day of the job and nobody shaked my hand. he says to melvin, you're the bravest people i ever met. knows, he says, i heard your story out there, you are the
bravest person i've ever met. it was such a beautiful moment. such a beautiful moment. i said it in the book, and they laughed and then they shook hands. so that was -- it was a really nice, nice moment. do we have any other questions? anyone else? everybody, we'll be signing books over here, i think. thank you all very much. thank you so much for having us. >> thank you. [applause] >> you're watching 48 hours of nonfiction authors. c-span, television for serious readers.
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