The Memory Palace

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Episode 75:
The Ballad of Captain Dwight

Aug 28, 2015

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Music, Footnotes & Ephemera

The finale of the 2015 Summer Season.

* Under the credits is Harlaamstrat 74 off of John Dankworth’s Modesty Blaise score.
* There’s Branches, by Keith Kenniff
* Then The Big Ocean, from Ben Sollee’s score to Maidentrip.
* Then End of the World from Dan Romer’s score to Beasts of the Southern Wild.
* There’s The Sage, pulling once more from the dope-as-hell self-titled album from the Chico Hamilton Quintet.
* There’s a loop pulled from Worm is Green’s song, Brand New Day
* There’s The Light, from my pal Jimmy’s wonderful project, The Album Leaf. Go buy their albums.
* The piece at the end is the theme to Charlie Countryman from Christophe Beck’s score.
* Oh: stuff gets heavy to Ghosts I from Nine Inch Nails.
* And finally (though out of order), playing over the fall-out from JFK’s death is Now by Goldmund.

A selected bibliography.

* We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program, by Richard Paul and Steven Moss
* Voices of Contemporary and Historical Black Pioneers, Farmer & Shepard-Wynn, editors
* The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe
* Distinguished African Americans in Aviation and Space Sciences, by Gulbert, Sawyer, and Fannin
* The All-American Boys, Walt Cunningham’s memoir.
* The Ebony article mentioned in the piece can be read here.


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19 Comments | Leave a Comment

19 Comments on The Ballad of Captain Dwight

  1. Heather says:

    Another great story that has me weeping at my desk. I will miss you until October….

  2. James Strickland says:

    A fascinating, well told story. It is frustrating to hear of such systemic racism.

    But isn’t it great what libraries can make possible?

  3. Tyler says:

    Actually, Dwight did poorly academically and was washed out by none other than Chuck Yeager. Yeager wrote about it in his autobiography and excerpts are available in the link provided. Yeager refused to compromise his standards for a DC pushed affirmative action publicity stunt. LBJ’s quotes on this topic are eye opening, “we’ll have those N******s voting for us (Democrats) for the next hundred years.”
    Of course Ebony is going to turn it into a sob story of oppression.

  4. Jim says:

    Tyler: even if the facts you cite are true, the way in which you present them does not say much about you as a human being. You probably think you are a no-nonsense truth-teller. But you are something else, something I will refrain from saying out of pity for your humanity.

  5. Jay says:

    I’ll take the survey on one condition. You must share some of the data for our enjoyment .

  6. admin says:

    Not sure what the plan is for the data yet…

  7. Maxilu says:

    What I got out of this story was redemption. Dwight never made it to the moon, but he managed to spend his life making beautiful things. It’s about second chances, and not wallowing in defeat, but moving on and finding the good in the world.

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  9. Paul says:

    The last three episodes are a beautiful set that stand side-by-side as a whole. Great writing. Loved the introduction of the voice of the man whose story was told. A voice. Such an American concept.

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  11. Rob says:

    So now I’ve heard two conflicting stories of Yeager’s treatment of Dwight. I wasn’t there and I don’t have enough evidence either way to come out on either side. Do the rest of you know something I don’t?

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  13. Kevin says:

    Just listened to this podcast. A fantastic, unheard story about race, America , the space program and libraries. Essential listening, brilliant story telling. A smash to end the series!

  14. Tabatha says:

    One of my favorites so far. I am surprised by the negative comments. I listen to you because I enjoy the way you tell a story, I love the historical accounts of things I would not otherwise have heard if not for The Memory Palace. As far as the conflict between the two versions, we all know that there is two sides to a story and then there is the truth. If people don’t agree, why are they here????

  15. Francisco says:

    One of my favourites episode of my favourite podcast.

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  17. Ben says:

    Judged from then list of sculptures hem created , you can’t help to say he is a great human being. He also earned a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Arizona State University. Yeager’s statement of him not qualified academically may not hold water.

  18. Richard Paul says:

    There are so many legitimate heroes among the first African-Americans in the space program. To focus yet again on Ed Dwight shortchanges their sacrifice and their contributions. I urge you to tell their stories (you can read them here: because they are no less fascinating. Ed tells a great story. He told it to me too, but I didn’t publish it because after reading everything there is to read in the public record about him and his case, I determined that most of it could not be substantiated. My principal concern with your story is that it perpetuates the contention that Pres. Kennedy wanted an African-American astronaut. No memo, letter, or interview with a principal illuminates the chain of official communication leading to government intervention in the NASA astronaut selection process. I asked Ed for the letter that he quotes in your story. He did not provide it. Ed also has a story about where Pres. Kennedy got the idea for a black astronaut (I’m not sure whether he told it to you). That story was conveyed to Ed by Whitney Young, but when I called Whitney Young’s biographer, she told me that story wasn’t true. Chuck Yeager wrote in his autobiography that Air Force Chief Curtis LeMay told him that the Attorney General, Robert Kennedy wanted “a colored in space” (Yeager’s words). That 3rd-hand story is as close as anyone can come to a suggestion that a Kennedy wanted an African-American astronaut. Also, Ed’s charge that Pres. Johnson didn’t want him in space is a new story for Ed. In his autobiography, he says that Johnson’s press secretary George Reedy worked to put him in the astronaut corps.

  19. megan says:

    This was another sad one. Thank you for sharing this story. It was one that needed to be told.

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