Sunday, July 15, 2012

Holy Ground

The day before liftoff, a mule-and-wagon carrying the Reverend Ralph Abernathy (head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and successor to Martin Luther King) appeared with a group of protestors before the gates of KSC.

The decade had seen a small but voluble public protest against Project Apollo, and some of the SCLC's chiefs were its most visible opponents, its leaders arguing that federal monies would be better spent on Earth-based needs instead of starry dreams.

Medical operations director Charles Berry:
I went up to [Reverend Abernathy] and I said, "You know, I do not understand why you would come and try and demonstrate and say that we ought not to have this flight to the Moon. Do you have any concept at all about what this can mean to the world and to us as a nation, having the capability to do this?"

He said, "It's really not about the capability to do this, it's this money that's going to the Moon, this money's going to be on the Moon, and it should be being spent on these people down here on Earth."

And I said, "There isn't a single dollar going on the Moon. Not one dollar going to be on the Moon. Every one of those dollars that's gone to this program, and a lot of this nation is involved in that, and every one of those dollars is going to somebody down here on Earth. If some of your people wanted to be working on some of that, they could have done it. I'm sure that jobs are there. You could work on it, and you could be getting some of that so-called moon money, if you want to call it that."

"That's not what I'm saying," he said. "The thing is, that money ought to be spent on these people right down here."

I said, "Well, you obviously don't understand what is happening here, and it's being done for your good and for everyone's good. If a nation is great, it's my view that that nation ought to be able to do both things, and we ought to be able to do the things that are necessary here. We need the science and the technology on the cutting edge if we're going to be a nation that's going to progress. If you don't, you're going to die as a nation and you're not going to solve any of the problems here on Earth or anywhere else."

Later, NASA Administrator Tom Paine went out to meet the reverend and offered to let some of the group watch the launch from the Center.

Abernathy would later admit, "I succumbed to the awe-inspiring launch ... I was one of the proudest Americans as I stood on this soil; I think it's really holy ground."
Rocket Men, pp. 74-75

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