Nine-year-old Ron loved two things more than anything else: aeroplanes and books. He was often found sitting in the corner of the public library, reading about pilots and planes.
Ron grew up in America during racial segregation, when black and white people were not considered to be equal to one another. Black and white children did not go to the same schools, could not play in the same parks and often lived on the opposite sides of town. The public library, however, was open to both black and white children.
One day, after choosing his books at the library, Ron decided to do something he had never done before. He made his way, very slowly and nervously, to the front desk.
‘Ma’am,’ he said softly, ‘I’d like to take these books home please.’
The librarian, who was reading a book, pretended not to hear him.
Ron politely asked again, this time louder.
The librarian looked up. ‘You can read them here,’ she said sternly. ‘But, as you know, only white children are allowed to take books home.’
‘I’d like to take them and read them at home, like the other children do,’ pleaded Ron.
‘Those are the rules, Ron,’ said the librarian, and she continued reading her book.
But Ron believed the rules were not fair, and he was determined to make a change.
He took a deep breath, pulled himself up onto the desk, and sitting there declared, ‘I’d like to check out these books please.’
Everyone in the library stopped what they were doing and stared. Shocked and upset, the librarian called the police.
Two police officers soon arrived, but Ron, despite feeling a little scared, didn’t move. So they called his mother, who was on the other side of town.
She came running to the library. ‘Ron! You have to come down!’ she cried. ‘You know the rules: black children can read the books in the library but can’t take them home. You have to follow the rules.’
‘But the rules aren’t fair!’ said Ron.
He then turned to the librarian: ‘I come here every day to read the books. Please let me read them at home. I promise to take care of them and bring them back.’
There was a long silence. Nobody spoke.
Finally the librarian opened her drawer and took out a brand new library card. She wrote ‘Ronald McNair’ it.
‘Here,’ she said. ‘This is yours. You can take these books home. Please bring them back in two weeks.’
Ron made history that day. And from that day onwards, he continued to make history. His love for books and aeroplanes, and his perseverance, would lead him to become the second African American astronaut to fly to space. Today, that library, as well as hundreds of other places, are named after Ron, in honour of his courage and determination.
Did You Know?
- While in school, Ron played baseball, basketball and football, and he later got a fifth-degree black belt in karate.
- Ron loved music and played the saxophone on his first mission to space.
- After his first mission to space, Ron described how being in space gave him a unique perspective of the world. He said that he could not see any borders between countries, only one earth, and that it was his hope that it would be an earth of peace.
- Ron died in 1986 on his second mission to space, during the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger which blew up 73 seconds after take off.