Ronald McNair grew up in Lake City, S.C. He grew up to become an astronaut. He was on the Challenger mission, which tragically exploded seconds after takeoff on Jan. 28, 1986. This is the actually funny story of how he started his journey in a time of great racial strife, as told by his brother to StoryCorps. And despite the tragedy, there's a little bit of a happy ending.
Carl: When he was nine years old, Ron, without my parents or myself knowing his whereabouts, decided to take a mile walk from our home down to the library, which was, of course, public library, but not so public for black folks...
Carl: when you're talking about 1959. 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 was this negro? So, he politely positioned himself in line to check out his books.
Well this old librarian, she said, "this library's not for coloreds." He said, "Well, I'd like to check out these books." She said, "Young man, if you don't leave this library right now, I'm going to 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. The police came down, two burly guys come in and said well, "Where's the disturbance?" And she pointed to the little nine year old boy sitting up on the counter and he 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 asked the librarian, "What's the problem?" "Well, 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 T.V. called "Star Trek". "Star Trek" showed the future where there were black folk and white folk working together and I used to look 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 to in 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 going to become an astronaut? But Ron was the one who didn't accept societal norms as being his norms. I mean that was for other people and he got to be aboard his own Starship Enterprise.