In 1959, he was just nine years old when he was unjustly expelled from a library due to racial discrimination.
In 1959, Ronald McNair, a nine-year-old boy growing up in South Carolina, faced discrimination when he was unjustly expelled from a library in his neighborhood due to the color of his skin. This incident highlighted the struggles of racism that McNair experienced at a young age. While browsing through books at the library, the librarian instructed him to leave, but he defiantly refused. He sat on the counter, making the decision not to leave. Eventually, they called the police and told the librarian to allow him to check out the books, per AfroTech.
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McNair was always dreaming about space and wanted to learn science and he wasn't going to let racists stop him. He became 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, and disappeared in an explosion 73 seconds after liftoff. McNair and the crew did not survive, reported ABC4 News. He was just 35 years old at the time.
According to NPR, his older brother, Carl, recalled how he faced racism at such a young age but didn't let it stop him from chasing his dreams. "When he was 9 years old, Ron, without my parents or myself knowing his whereabouts, decided to take a mile walk from our home down to the library," Carl said. The library was public "but not so public for black folks 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 is this N**ro?' So, he politely positioned himself in line to check out his books."
In 1959, police were called to a segregated library when a Black 9-year-old boy trying to check out books refused to leave, after being told the library was not for Black people.— AFRICAN & BLACK HISTORY (@AfricanArchives) November 24, 2022
The boy, Ronald McNair, went on to became an astronaut. The library is also now named after him. pic.twitter.com/vds2OYn6RU
"Well, this old librarian, she says, 'This library is not for coloreds.' He said, 'Well, I would like to check out these books.' She says, 'Young man if you don't leave this library right now, I'm gonna call the police.' So he just propped himself up on the counter, and sat there, and said, 'I'll wait,' " Carl added.
The police and the boy's mother arrive on the scene. "She comes down there praying the whole way there: 'Lordy, Jesus, please don't let them put my child in jail.' And my mother asks the librarian, 'What's the problem?' He wanted to check out the books and, you know, your son shouldn't be down here," the librarian said, according to Carl. 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.' So, the librarian reluctantly handed over the books. And then, Carl says, "My mother said, 'What do you say?' And Ron answered, "Thank you, ma'am."
October 21, 1950 — NASA astronaut Ronald McNair was born. He died during the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, age 35. pic.twitter.com/zpbzrlSNoY— MoorInfo (@MoorInformation) October 21, 2021
The police officer added, 'You know, why don't you just give the kid the books?' and his mother said, 'He'll take good care of them.' So, the librarian reluctantly handed over the books. Carl explained, "My mother said, 'What do you say?' And Ron answered, 'Thank you, ma'am.' "
Incredulously the building that housed his childhood library was named after him. On January 29, 2011, the building was renamed the Ronald McNair Life History Center. According to its website, The Ronald E. McNair Life History Center is now "a museum that pays tribute to the life of Dr. McNair, a Lake City-born astronaut and physicist who died in the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle explosion," adding that "McNair from an early age showed a fascination with science and math and overcame the discrimination of the 1960s South to pursue those interests."
Housed in Lake City's old public library, the museum sits next to Dr. McNair's gravesite along with a statue and square erected in his honor. The future plans include expanding "this life history center into a science and technology museum, dedicated to helping South Carolina students learn about space, physics, computers and other science-related topics."