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Ed Dwight

Ed Dwight, the first African American to be trained as an astronaut and the sculptor of major monuments, was born on the outskirts of Kansas City, Kansas in 1933. His father, Ed Dwight, Sr., played second base for the Kansas City Monarchs in baseball's Negro League. Child rearing fell primarily on Ed's Catholic mother, Georgia Baker Dwight, who convinced her son that he could accomplish almost anything. Dwight grew up as an avid reader and a talented artist who was mechanically gifted and enjoyed working with his hands.

Dwight joined the United States Air Force in 1953, pursuing his dream of flying jet aircraft. He became a USAF test pilot, and in 1961 earned a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Arizona State University. At the suggestion of the National Urban League's Whitney M. Young, Jr., the Kennedy administration chose Captain Ed Dwight as the first Negro astronaut trainee in 1962. Catapulted to instant fame, he was featured on the cover of Ebony, Jet, Sepia and in news magazines around the world.

Facing severe discrimination from other astronauts, Dwight persevered until President Kennedy's death, when government officials created a threatening atmosphere. He resigned in 1966, never having gone into space. Dwight's talents then led him to work as an engineer, in real estate, and for IBM. In the mid 1970s, he turned to art and studied at the University of Denver, learning to operate the university's metal casting foundry. He received a Masters of Fine Arts in 1977 and gained a reputation as a sculptor. Ed Dwight Studios in Denver is now one of the largest privately owned production and marketing facilities in the western United States. His engineering background helps him face the problems of creating monumental sculpture and his well-stocked library of African American history and culture informs his work. Dwight is recognized as the innovator of the negative space technique.

Dwight has sculpted great works of celebratory African American art, including International Monuments to the Underground Railroad in Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario; a Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial in Denver's City Park; a bust of George Washington Williams in the Ohio State Capitol in Columbus, Ohio; the Black Patriots Memorial on the mall in Washington, D.C.; the South Carolina Black History Memorial in Columbia, South Carolina; and the Alex Haley-Kunta Kinte Memorial in Annapolis, Maryland. The Quincy Jones Sculpture Park in Chicago brings his total major works to 35, some of which are on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute.

Accession Number

A2002.114

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/19/2002

Last Name

Dwight

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
Schools

University of Denver

Arizona State University

Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Any

First Name

Ed

Birth City, State, Country

Kansas City

HM ID

DWI01

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - $5,000 - $10,000

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Kansas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Tahiti

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Colorado

Birth Date

9/9/1933

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Denver

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Seafood

Short Description

Sculptor and test pilot Ed Dwight (1933 - ) was the first African American trained as an astronaut. As a sculptor, he was commissioned to develop major monuments. Ed Dwight Studios in Denver was one of the largest privately owned production and marketing facilities in the western United States.

Employment

United States Air Force

IBM

Ed Dwight Studios

Favorite Color

Black

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Ed Dwight narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ed Dwight narrates his photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Slating of Ed Dwight's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ed Dwight lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ed Dwight describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ed Dwight describes his mother

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ed Dwight describes his father's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ed Dwight describes his father's Negro League baseball schedule

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ed Dwight describes his father

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ed Dwight describes his father's experiences as a Negro League baseball player

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ed Dwight describes his father's personality

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ed Dwight talks about his father's career with the Kansas State University grain department

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ed Dwight describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ed Dwight talks about his grandfather

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ed Dwight describes how he got the nickname "June Bug"

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Ed Dwight talks about his father's family

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Ed Dwight talks about his mother and grandmother's practice of witchcraft

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Ed Dwight talks about his childhood love of airplanes and reading

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Ed Dwight describes how he developed his art skill as a youth

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Ed Dwight talks about his childhood fascination with Adolf Hitler

Tape: 2 Story: 15 - Ed Dwight talks about integrating an all-white Catholic school in the 1940s

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ed Dwight describes what motivated him to take up boxing as a youth

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ed Dwight talks about his boxing career

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ed Dwight describes the various jobs he held as a youth

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ed Dwight describes what dashed his dreams of becoming an artist after high school

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ed Dwight talks about the racism in Kansas City, Kansas

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ed Dwight describes his decision not to attend the Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ed Dwight describes his preparation for flight school, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Ed Dwight describes his preparation for flight school, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Ed Dwight talks about entering flight school at Lowry Air Force Base

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Ed Dwight describes how he was almost kicked out of flight school, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Ed Dwight describes how he was almost kicked out of flight school, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Ed Dwight describes how flight school helped him get rid of his stutter

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ed Dwight talks about excellence in flight school

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ed Dwight describes his plane accident in flight school, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ed Dwight describes his plane accident in flight school, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ed Dwight describes his success as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ed Dwight describes his success as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ed Dwight describes his selection to train as the first black astronaut, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ed Dwight describes his selection to train as the first black astronaut, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Ed Dwight describes having to stage his marriage in order to train as the first black astronaut

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Ed Dwight describes attempts to force him out of NASA's astronaut training program

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Ed Dwight shares his theory behind why he was selected to become NASA's first black astronaut

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Ed Dwight describes the backlash that arose after he was selected to train as the first black astronaut

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Ed Dwight describes a government approved anthropological study to prove he was incapable of being an astronaut

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ed Dwight talks about sleep deprivation as an astronaut trainee

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ed Dwight describes how Pentagon officials tried to blackmail him

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ed Dwight talks about being interrogated by Pentagon officials

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ed Dwight describes why his classmates changed their attitudes toward him in astronaut training school

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ed Dwight describes how the assassination of President John F. Kennedy nearly led to the end of his career as a NASA astronaut trainee, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ed Dwight describes how the assassination of President John F. Kennedy nearly led to the end of his career as a NASA astronaut trainee, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ed Dwight describes how government officials conspired to make him appear homosexual, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Ed Dwight describes how government officials conspired to make him appear homosexual, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Ed Dwight describes why the Johnson Administration did not want him to go into space

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Ed Dwight talks about being harassed by the Ku Klux Klan while stationed in Ohio

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Ed Dwight describes how his second wife blackmailed and attempted to murder him

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ed Dwight talks about moving to Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ed Dwight describes his classmate dying in an airplane explosion

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Ed Dwight talks describes his first attempt to resign from the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Ed Dwight describes being discharged from the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Ed Dwight talks about the challenges he faced finding a job after he was discharged from the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Ed Dwight talks about his Freedom of Information Act petition and the false information found, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Ed Dwight talks about his Freedom of Information Act petition and the false information found, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Ed Dwight describes his desire to pursue a career as an artist

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Ed Dwight talks about working on a book deal and movie deal

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Ed Dwight talks about astronauts HistoryMaker Guion Bluford and Frederick D. Gregory

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Ed Dwight talks about being commissioned to create a sculpture of black astronauts for NASA

Tape: 6 Story: 12 - Ed Dwight describes how his career affected his children

Tape: 6 Story: 13 - Ed Dwight talks about working with his son

Tape: 6 Story: 14 - Ed Dwight talks about his father's death

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Ed Dwight talks about Denver, Colorado

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Ed Dwight describes how he dressed while working for IBM

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Ed Dwight describes how working for IBM helped launch his career as a professional artist

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Ed Dwight remembers his first art show

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Ed Dwight describes the early years of his art career

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Ed Dwight describes what prevented him from becoming a full-time artist

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Ed Dwight describes what motivated him to pursue his M.F.A. degree at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Ed Dwight notes how public perception shapes the successes and failures of black artists

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Ed Dwight describes how the black community's perception of art can hurt black artists

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Ed Dwight talks about his artwork being stolen in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Ed Dwight describes why he chose to focus on public art

Tape: 7 Story: 12 - Ed Dwight talks about the black community's failure to support black visual artists

Tape: 7 Story: 13 - Ed Dwight shares how an encounter at the University of Denver shaped his philosophy as an artist

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Ed Dwight talks about opening his own foundry

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Ed Dwight describes the process of developing his identity as an artist

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Ed Dwight talks about discovering black history

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Ed Dwight talks about expressing his love of jazz through sculpture

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Ed Dwight describes how using the "negative space" technique helped him become a commercial success

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Ed Dwight talks about how Miles Davis is his favorite sculpting subject

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Ed Dwight talks about some of his contemporary pieces

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Ed Dwight talks about the challenges of gaining financial backing as a black artist

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Ed Dwight talks about the controversy surrounding the African American History Monument in Charleston, South Carolina, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Ed Dwight talks about the controversy surrounding the African American History Monument in Charleston, South Carolina, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 11 - Ed Dwight describes the criticism of his work by the black community

Tape: 8 Story: 12 - Ed Dwight talks about how people expect less of him because he is a black artist

Tape: 8 Story: 13 - Ed Dwight talks about being trained as an architect and land developer

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Ed Dwight describes his creative process, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Ed Dwight describes his creative process, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Ed Dwight reflects on his work

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Ed Dwight talks about developing his black identity

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Ed Dwight describes how people react to black identity as it is depicted in his work

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Ed Dwight talks about his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Ed Dwight describes the potential of his work for the black community

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Ed Dwight talks about blacks' failure to create positive cultural representations of themselves

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - Ed Dwight describes his hopes and concerns for the black arts community, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 10 - Ed Dwight talks about psychological racism

Tape: 9 Story: 11 - Ed Dwight describes his concerns for today's youth

Tape: 9 Story: 12 - Ed Dwight talks about how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$7

DAStory

6$5

DATitle
Ed Dwight describes his selection to train as the first black astronaut, pt. 1
Ed Dwight describes the early years of his art career
Transcript
And so November the fourth, 1961, I get a letter. And it's signed, not by the president, but it's at the direction of the president. "I'm inviting you to become American's first Negro astronaut", you know. And, and he says, this is very exciting because if it's, if this project succeeds, you will probably end up being the greatest Negro that ever lived. And that was in the letter, man. And I said, whaaaa (laughter), you know, said, I'll take that. And so I got this letter, I thought it was a joke. And so I waited three days, and the reason I thought it was a joke, we used to do things in headquarters that--we, we'd get Department of Air Force stationary, and we'd send people to Alaska. And we'd put it, you know, I mean we'd write all these orders, and we'd this guy--you know, somebody we'd been--you know, somebody we, you know, and we'd give to him. God damn, I'm going to Alaska, they gonna send me to Alaska". And about a couple of days later, we'd say, ah, got ya. (Laughter). He gonna tell--he told his old lady, he told everybody. And so I thought it was one of them letters. So I waited three days, waiting for the other shoe to drop. And nobody called me on it. So I took the letter to my, to my immediate boss, Berkowitz. And he said, forget it. He says, no, no, no, no. Ed, that's another world. Your career is secure. You're gonna, you're gonna leave Travis [Air Force Base] with a minimum of a bird on your shoulder, maybe a star, okay. Why would you bother with this crap? Those guys are crazy down there. And so I said, you know, I said, well, okay. I didn't say it--so I went to Doug McDonald, his boss. And I talked to Colonel McDonald, and Colonel McDonald looked at me, looked at that thing, and he said, this is nuts. He said, why would you want to do something like this? And I said something really stupid. I said, cause I want to be on the cover of "Ebony Magazine" (laughter). And he looked at me, and he said, what the hell is "Ebony Magazine"? He had never heard of "Ebony Magazine". I said, man, I get to save my people (laughter). He said, what people do you want to save, Ed? He said, what are you talking about. You know, he says, these people are crazy. He said, man, they gonna make hamburger out of you. He said, you have no idea what you're getting into, but, you know, he said, leave it alone. Your career is in cement. You're on the fast track. Everything's fine. Leave it alone. And I couldn't leave it alone, man. I went home, and I thought about this stuff, you know, and I read, I read that letter about that "greatest Negro alive", kept reading that part over and over again (laughter). So I--.$$Were you married at this time?$$Well, no, I mean that's what, that was the killer. See, that was the killer. I had--.$$There was nobody else to talk about it with.$$No, my old lady had split and left my butt with two kids, man. See, and I'm gonna, I'm gonna have to bring these two kids up. And the Air Force didn't even know that. See, I hadn't told the Air Force that my old lady had left. And she had left years ago. And I was bringing these kids up by myself. And, you know, one guy on the base knew about it, but nobody else did cause it was against the Air Force regulations to have kids on the base without a mom. So I didn't say nothing to nobody about this, man. So that was my little secret. And, you know, and so, and this was gonna blow this up, you see what I'm saying? And so, now, I just--I can't leave it alone, man. So I snuck, and I got all my transcripts and all my records, and I sent 'em--and they had most of 'em up there anyway, but I send all the new stuff up there. And, man, it wasn't even there a day, those people didn't even have time to read that thing. To show, I mean to show you how this was cooked up, man, this whole thing was cooked up. You know, all they wanted was a response that I, to give 'em, to say, yeah. That's all they wanted from me. And they didn't care what my records were because the very day they received it, I got orders sending me to Edwards Air Force Base for flight testing and interview.$And then I had a commission to do at the Air Force Academy [Colorado Springs, Colorado] to do Wright Brothers scene. The Wright Brothers, you know with a Kitty Hawk with, you know. And so then [sounds like] Octave Chanute was going with Bob--my boss's secretary. And Octave Chanute is the guy that did all of the bridgework and all the structure work for the Wright Brothers. He's a bridge maker out of St. Louis [Missouri].$$That's Chanute Air Force Base.$$[Simultaneously] Chanute Air Force Base [Chicago, Illinois] is named after him. So Octave Chanute's grandson lives here. And he commissioned me to do all the planes to scale that his dad had done the structural work for Wright Brothers. So I had to go back to the Smithsonian [Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.]. I got all those measurements. And they allowed me to do it. They allowed me to copy all this stuff. It was bizarre. And I made all these little airplanes for Octave Chanute III, or fourth or something. Whatever the hell his name was. So I mean on the side-- And you gotta understand now, I'm--and I walked out and left IBM [International Business Machines]. You know, and I'm doing this art on the side at night, all night long kind of stuff. You remember I was telling you about no sleeping. So I'd get home at 10:00 at night and I'd work 'til about 4:00 in the morning welding and doing all this stuff. You know. And--but this was welded sculpture. It was, you know. It had nothing to do with what I do now. 'Cause I didn't know anything about model art. I had no concept and no idea that you could take what I was doing and do it simpler by-- with clay and wax and all that kind of stuff. 'Cause I would do it the hard way. You follow what I'm saying? And so that really kind of got me into the art universe. Even when I--in my enterprise even when I was building condos, I'd go to my lender and I'd say, "I want an art budget." "Are you crazy?" I said, "No, I'm serious. I want an art budget." And so you buy one of my condominiums, you got an Ed Dwight sculpture or an Ed Dwight painting in the condo. Okay. So now--and that what's in some instances sold the condo. While they're sitting there, I got this abstract piece of art on the coffee table there or the model and I--and a couple of my painting on the wall. And that's what sold the condos faster and stuff. So I mean this whole thing was all working. You know, and my little head was just going crazy and all this stuff was working for me. You know? But I was too chicken to trust it. So it was a long time before I ever went into art.