United States Air Force
Ed Dwight was the first African American to be trained as an astronaut. Although he never made it to space, we still honor his contribution to space travel and Black history.
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. 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.