WASHINGTON, (AFNS) — The past may be history, but the present and future still offer opportunity. On Aug. 5, 2020, the newest military branch inducted an honorary member: Edward Dwight.
Dwight is an American sculptor, author, and former test pilot. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1953 and separated as a captain in 1966. In 1961, he took the first steps toward improving diversity and talent in the U.S. Space program by becoming America’s first African-American astronaut candidate. This was a time of uncertainty where the color of a person’s skin mattered more than his or her skill.
“Someone took time to remember all of the interesting parts and pieces of my life and bring them to a national level,” he said during the induction ceremony hosted at the Pentagon. “I am shocked that, at this age, after going through all the stuff I went through in life, I’m getting this kind of recognition…”
After a successful period of time as a pilot, in 1961, the Kennedy administration selected Dwight for astronaut training. He completed the Experimental Test Pilot course and entered Aerospace Research Pilot training in preparation for Astronaut duties. He successfully completed the course and continued to perform duties as a fully qualified Aerospace Research Pilot. While in training, he faced obstacles due to his race, which derailed his chance to be the first African American in space. Dwight’s fight for equality was one of many trailblazing battles happening during the civil rights era.
The assassination of President Kennedy, his main sponsor in the oval office, and the curtailment of his space journey led to his separation from the Air Force. He then transitioned his passion for flying to his passion for sculpting. He memorialized and honored the legacy of great African Americans in his art, his sculptures a celebration of innovation and diversity of thought.
Dwight dedicated his skills to honor those who paved the way unknowing that he, too, was part of that legacy. Celebrating his contributions was just one of many things that happened during Dwight’s visit to the Pentagon.
“It was truly an honor to induct Mr. Edward Dwight into the newest military branch,” said Gen. Jay Raymond, chief of space operations U.S. Space Force. “He made history with his trailblazing and then proceeded to preserve history with his creativity.”
In a ceremony Raymond presented Dwight with the Commander’s Public Service Award, for his contributions to the U.S., space, and history during times of overt racism in the field of science. And yet, he was an example of excellence, embarking on a NASA-sponsored nationwide speaking tour encouraging young people to study science, engineering, and math.
“Today has been all about honoring all the things that I did, but I didn’t do any of these things for honors,” said Dwight. “It was about contributing in the best way I knew I could to this country.”
He continued to give to his country by inspiring the space professionals he met throughout the day at the Pentagon.
“It was an honor and humbling being able to meet someone who has accomplished so much in both air and space,” Maj. Jose Almanzar, Space Force strategic initiatives group. “It gives me strength to think about Mr. Dwight and how he had to deal with so much adversity and overcome so many obstacles.”
The visit to the Pentagon included time with the Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper, Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett, Chief of Space Operations U.S. Space Force Gen. Jay Raymond, and former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. The visit finished with a meeting with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Mark A. Milley.