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Black America Library Series

Our Series

Our Visual Library Series serves as a powerful antidote to attacks on diversity, Black history studies, Critical Race Theory (CRT), and books by Black Authors by providing a comprehensive perspective on American History.

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They highlight the often-overlooked contributions and experiences of Black individuals and organizations, promoting inclusivity and challenging stereotypes.

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They foster a deep understanding of the Black American Experience, encouraging open dialogue and ultimately promoting a society where diversity and racial justice are celebrated, not attacked.

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  • Writer's pictureT. Brookshire

From Library Steps to Lunar Dreams: The Story of Dr. Ronald E. McNair

The year was 1959. A 9-year old Ronald McNair was just a young boy, growing up in South Carolina. He learned to read and write before kindergarten and earned the nickname "Gizmo", because he was considered a mechanical genius... but he found himself answering questions from the police...



Ronald Ervin McNair was born to Carl and Pearl McNair on October 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina, a quaint little town that was typical of most pre-Civil Rights-era rural towns. The house in which he was born had neither running water nor electricity. He had two brothers Eric and Carl Jr. The McNairs were a highly industrious couple who taught their sons by words, examples, and deeds. Daddy Carl was an automobile body repairman and he taught his sons this trade despite never making as much as $100 a week during their childhood. Mama Pearl McNair was a high school teacher who earned a master's degree in education from HBCU, South Carolina State College. The McNair boys did farm work during summer months to supplement the family income.




As early as the 1st grade, Ron became obsessed with science and all-things-space. The impetus for his early love of technical things was the Russian satellite Sputnik (1957), and the Star Trek TV show. He had a fascination with stars and the galaxy, to the extent that he was observed looking skyward on a regular basis. One day while in the 4th grade, Ron decided that he would walk a mile across town to the public library. However, no one in his family was aware. Neither his parents. Nor his brothers. The library was public but it was 1959... so no black folks allowed. But Ron was defiant and determined to check out a book. As soon as he enters the door, everyone of the white readers are starting to stare and wonder what has possessed this kid to enter a segregated facility. But he was quick and diligent in finding the books that he wanted and politely stood in line to check them out. Well, the librarian had already called the police (and his Mother) while Ron was browsing through the books. When he joins the line, the librarian instructed him to leave. "This library is not for Coloreds! Young man, if you don't leave this library right now, you will get arrested. The cops are already on the way."



That did not intimidate Ronald McNair. He just propped himself up on the counter and sat there with his arms crossed. "I will wait then!" Eventually, the police shows up and starts questioning the 9-year old Ron. His mother also arrives and immediately comes to his defense. The police were impressed by his resolve and after a long discussion, they convinced the librarian to allow him to check out the books. Mrs. McNair said, 'He'll take good care of them.' And when the librarian reluctantly handed over the books, Ron responded, "Thank you, ma'am."


McNair, like many other African Americans, faced this sort of discrimination on a daily basis. However, he would still became a well-rounded student who excelled in athletics, played the saxophone, and graduated as Carver High School's valedictorian in 1967.

Ronald McNair was awarded a state scholarship to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) in Greensboro. In 1971, McNair graduated from NC A&T magna cum laude and was named a Ford Foundation Fellow and Presidential Scholar. He received a scholarship to continue his studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he excelled academically as well. In 1976, McNair completed all requirements for the Ph.D. degree in physics and joined the Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California as a scientist. He was an acknowledged expert in the specialized fields of chemical and high-pressure lasers.



Dr. McNair would become the second African-American to visit space. Sadly he died when the space shuttle "The Challenger" launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 28, 1986. He was just 35 years old at the time.

Oh yeah... what about that childhood library? On January 29, 2011, the building was renamed the Ronald McNair Life History Center and it now serves as a museum that pays tribute to the life of Dr. McNair, a Lake City-born astronaut, who at an early age showed a fascination with science and math and overcame the discrimination of the 1960s South to pursue those interests.


His older brother, Carl Jr, Now, Carl and many others are using Ron's legacy to impact others. They're hoping children, from all backgrounds, will follow in his footsteps. Carl has devoted his career to his brother’s legacy, creating the Dr. Ronald E. McNair Foundation and the McNair Achievement Programs, both based in Atlanta and both intended to encourage African-American students to go into math and science fields.




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