Newswire : NASA celebrates legacy of first African American Astronaut

By Erick Johnson (Chicago Crusader/NNPA Member)

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Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr. was the first African American astronaut. (USAF/Wikimedia Commons)
Fifty years ago, a tragic accident ended the groundbreaking career of Major Robert H. Lawrence, Jr., a Chicago native and stellar Air Force pilot who became America’s first Black astronaut.
On December 8, 2017—the 50th anniversary of his death—NASA honored his often-ignored legacy and contributions to the agency.
Earlier this year, the Chicago Crusader reported about the lack of visibility of NASA’s first Black American astronaut and helped to raise awareness about Lawrence’s incredible journey.

In planning a story for its annual Black History Month edition, Chicago Crusader staffers discovered that little was being done to honor Lawrence, while NASA held memorials to mark the 50th anniversary of three, White astronauts who perished in a fire aboard the Apollo 1 space module, during a preflight testing.
The Crusader story lauding Lawrence’s achievements was published in dozens of Black newspapers after the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA) carried it on its newswire.
Born in 1935 to the late Gwendolyn Duncan and Robert H. Lawrence, Sr., the future Air Force pilot was a man ahead of his time. Long before magnet and STEM programs were part of the high school curriculum, Lawrence excelled in math and science.
At 16, he graduated with honors from Englewood High School and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Bradley University. He married the late Barbara Cress from the prominent Chicago Cress family and entered the Air Force at age 21 before earning a doctorate in physical chemistry from Ohio State University, becoming the first astronaut at NASA to earn a doctorate degree.
As a United States Air Force pilot, Lawrence accumulated over 2,500 flight hours. In June 1967, Lawrence graduated from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School (Class ‘66B) at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. In that same month, he was selected by the USAF as an astronaut for their Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) program, thus becoming the first Black astronaut.
Lawrence died while training another pilot, Maj. John Royer, to perform the “flare” maneuver—an operation that Lawrence had already mastered— in the F-104 Starfighter.
According to NBC News, “Lawrence’s memory languished in obscurity” partly due to the fact that, the Pentagon only recognized someone as an “astronaut” if they actually flew to an altitude above 50 miles.
However, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Va.) mounted a campaign that forced NASA to put Lawrence’s name on the Space Mirror Memorial in 1997—thirty years after Lawrence’s death.
“On Dec. 8, 1997, on the thirtieth anniversary of his death, Lawrence had his name unveiled on the Florida memorial,” NBC News reported.
The ceremony recognizing Lawrence, earlier this month—although spirited, at times—was a somber one for the 300 guests that included decorated NASA astronauts, dignitaries, relatives, and friends, who had flown and driven miles across the country to honor Lawrence at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Lawrence’s older sister, Dr. Barbara Lawrence, attended and spoke; another prominent Chicago resident who was present was E. Dawn Griffin, the oldest daughter of Ernest Griffin, founder of Griffin Funeral Home in Bronzeville. The Griffin Funeral Home, which closed in 2012, handled the funeral arrangements for Lawrence.
Members from Lawrence’s college fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, also attended to honor one of their own. On the sprawling grounds of the NASA facility, they participated in a two-and-a-half-hour ceremony that began at the Center for Space Education and culminated with an emotional wreath-laying ceremony at the base of the national Space Mirror Memorial, a massive black granite structure where Lawrence’s name is among those of 20 astronauts who either died in flight or in training.
The ceremony brought out some of NASA’s astronauts and biggest officials. Charles Bolden, America’s first Black NASA chief administrator, and Stephanie Wilson, the second Black female astronaut, attended the service. Another Black astronaut, Winston Scott, played the trumpet in a band that performed various jazz songs, including, “Fly Me to the Moon.” Reportedly, jazz was one of Lawrence’s favorite musical genres.
Dr. Barbara Lawrence shared her experiences with her brother as they grew up on the South Side of Chicago. She said, when Robert was young, he was a very disciplined student and dedicated to learning. “I’m truly proud to have been his sister,” she shared. “He wasn’t interested in being the first Black astronaut. He was only interested in being given the opportunity to do what he wanted to do. I’m sorry he wasn’t here a little longer, but I think his job was one that was well done.”
The Chicago Crusader is a member publication of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Learn more about becoming a member at www.nnpa.org.

Newswire : Bishop William J. Barber II to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thanksgiving Day

By Cash Michaels (The Wilmington Journal/NNPA Member)

Rev. William Barberb II
Rev. William Barber II

In an exclusive interview with The Wilmington Journal, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, the president of Repairers of the Breach, a nonpartisan, nonprofit social advocacy group, has confirmed that he and a delegation of “moral, workers’ rights, anti-poverty and ecological justice advocates…” will be meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thanksgiving Day.
Dr. Barber, who was consecrated as a bishop over the summer, received the invitation from the Vatican last September, along with invitations to visit England and Africa to join other labor and workers’ rights advocates.
“[The Pope] wants to bless this movement and meet with other activists from around the world who are fighting against poverty,” Dr. Barber said.
Dr. Barber, who officially stepped down from his post as the president of North Carolina’s branch of the NAACP in October after serving 12 years, will be part of a two-day conference attended by social justice advocates from countries like Canada, Senegal, Italy, Ireland, Tunisia, Ghana, Brazil, and the United States, among others.
It’s no doubt that Dr. Barber’s involvement in the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign caught the attention of, not only national, but international, social justice leadership, like Pope Francis, who is world renowned for his personal and official advocacy for the poor.
Just last Sunday in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, celebrated a special mass for poor people on the first World Day of the Poor, eating with 1500 from Italy, Poland and France.
The pope also denounced those who express indifference to the plight of the poor, calling such behavior “a great sin.”
“It is when we turn away from a brother or sister in need, when we change channels as soon as a disturbing question comes up, when we grow indignant at evil, but do nothing about it,” Pope Francis said. “God will not ask us, if we felt righteous indignation, but whether we did some good.”
According to the group’s website, Repairers of the Breach, “…seeks to build a moral agenda rooted in the framework that uplifts our deepest moral and constitutional values to redeem the heart and soul of our country. Our deepest moral traditions point to equal protection under the law, the desire for peace within and among nations, the dignity of all people, and the responsibility to care for our common home.”
The Wilmington Journal is a member publication of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

National Newspaper Publishers Association calls for appointment of a Special Federal Prosecutor on Racially Motivated Police Killings

 

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Washington, D.C. — Today, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the nation’s largest trade association of African American-owned newspapers and media companies, issued an urgent call and demand that President Barack H. Obama and U.S Attorney General Loretta Lynch appoint a Special Federal Prosecutor in the wake of the police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.  The NNPA also expresses sincere condolences to the families of the police officers who were unjustly killed in Dallas, Texas.
“The killings of African Americans in Louisiana and Minnesota during the past week represent an escalating national pattern  of fatal police  killings that appear to be racially motivated.  These incidents are not isolated local tragedies, but are the terrible growing manifestations of a deadly national system of racism in the criminal justice system that needs to be effectively challenged and changed,” said Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., the president and CEO of the NNPA. “There are, today, too many African American families and communities that continue to endure police brutality and violence across the United States. This is a national crisis that demands immediate federal intervention to both investigate and to prosecute police officers, who continue to commit these wanton racially motivated killings.”
Chavis continued: “We, therefore, demand that a Special Federal Prosecutor be immediately appointed by the United States Department of Justice. To date, unfortunately, local investigations and prosecutions have been ineffective and have not insured equal justice. The Special Federal Prosecutor has to be independent and impartial. We have heard from many of our NNPA member publishers throughout the nation who all expressed profound disgust and moral outrage about these brutalities. We will not be silent in the face of these continued injustices. We demand action by the federal government now.”
The reform of the criminal justice system in America requires more intellectual honesty in the national dialogue about race, inequality and injustice.  The NNPA will engage and participate in this dialogue as the movement for reform and social change unfolds.
The NNPA represents 209 African American owned newspapers based in 32 states and known as the “Voice of Black America” that reaches 20.l million readers per week with national offices located in Washington, D.C. Please visit www.NNPA.org to learn more about the NNPA and go to www.BlackPressUSA.com to check out news and commentary about the Black community.