Our state’s business community is preparing to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On Friday, June 13, six humanitarians will be honored at the MLK Jr. Social Responsibility Awards Ceremony. in downtown Denver.
One of the winners, 88-year-old Ed Dwight of Denver, is known across the country for his artistic talent.
Inside his Denver art studio is a collection of stories told through the sculptures he creates.
But before Dwight became an artist dedicated to commemorating significant figures in black history, he hoped to create his own history in space.
Dwight was one of the first African-Americans to participate in the Air Force Training Program from which NASA selected astronauts. It was popular with many, including former President John F. Kennedy — who wanted to send a black astronaut into space.
Dwight recalled the first time he found out he could go into space.
“When I got this letter, Nov. 4, 1961, offering me the opportunity to be the first black astronaut, I thought these guys were crazy,” he told “CBS Mornings” national correspondent Jericka Duncan, laughing.
“What, why me? I mean, what’s this about? You know? And I said, ‘No.’ I mean, my first reaction to that was, ‘This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.'”
Dwight was a 27-year-old Air Force pilot at the time. He said his mother had to be the one to convince him to take the plunge.
“I consulted with my mother. My mother tells me about all these things, things that I could do as a symbol, you know, and all those things that a mother would tell her son about, you know, ‘You’ve been offered this great opportunity. Think about to all the kids you’re going to get excited about this and how you’re going to help the race,'” he recalled.
As the first African-American astronaut candidate, Dwight was seen as a hero by the black community.
He toured the country promoting his newfound journey. But when he arrived at the Space Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California, he faced discrimination among his peers.
“So all these white guys that I deal with, I mean, my peers, other guys who were candidates for astronauts and leadership were horrified at the idea of me coming to Edwards and being nominated by the president,” Dwight said.
To his peers, Dwight said, he was known as “the Kennedy boy.” Despite this, Dwight remained in the program for another four years, but was never selected to go into space.
With his astronaut dreams dashed, Dwight left the Air Force in 1966 to work at IBM. Later, he started a construction company.
Dwight would bring home leftovers from his construction company and start learning to weld. He would create works of art and decorate his apartment with his new artistic creations.
His friends would notice his new hobby—including Colorado’s first black lieutenant colonel, George Brown, who saw Dwight’s work and encouraged him to pursue it seriously.
Brown even asked Dwight to be the artist behind a proposed sculpture of Brown to be displayed in the state capitol.
The Brown sculpture will be Dwight’s first commissioned piece, but not his last. Since then, Dwight has created nearly 20,000 gallery pieces and more than 130 monuments across the country honoring these hidden figures of black history.
He says his favorite monument stands proudly in the Texas capital and honors the legendary history of African Americans in the Lone Star State.
“There are 200 pictures of people on that monument in Texas. They all have different personalities and different dreams. And I wanted to put that on their faces,” Dwight said.
He may not have been the first black man in space, but Dwight said he didn’t mind because he found a new mission on Earth.
“No, I don’t mind…Actually, I found it to be a great opportunity,” Dwight said. “That’s why I got all this stuff here. And all the little bits and pieces of everything you see in the studio and all those buildings down there is a manifestation of what I’ve learned in the years I’ve been in that program.
Other laureates at Friday’s luncheon include Charles Burrell, Hate Free Colorado, Emanuel Martinez, Derek Okubo and the Rocky Mountain Indian Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, Dr. Charleszine Terry Nelson will receive the 17th Annual Trailblazer Award.