Ed Dwight

American Air Force test pilot and sculptor (born 1933)

  • Kansas City Junior College, A.A. 1953
  • Arizona State University, B.S. 1957
  • University of Denver, MFA 1977
Known forSculptureAwardsAir Force Commander's Award for Public ServiceMilitary careerAllegiance United StatesService/branch United States Air ForceYears of service1953–1966Rank Captain Websitewww.eddwight.com

Edward Joseph "Ed" Dwight Jr. (born September 9, 1933) is an American sculptor, author, and former test pilot. He is the first African American to have entered the Air Force training program from which NASA selected astronauts. He was controversially not selected to officially join NASA.


Early life

Dwight was born on September 9, 1933, in the racially segregated[1] Kansas City, Kansas area, to Georgia Baker Dwight (1909–2006) and Edward Joseph Dwight Sr. (1905–1975), who played second base and centerfield for the Kansas City Monarchs and other Negro league teams from 1924 to 1937.[2][3][4][5]

At age 4, Dwight built a toy airplane out of orange crates in his backyard.[1] As a child, he was an avid reader and talented artist who was mechanically gifted and enjoyed working with his hands.[2] He attended grade school at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Kansas City. While delivering newspapers, he saw Air Force pilot Dayton Ragland, a Black man from Kansas City, on the front page of The Call. Having grown up in racist segregation, he instantly "wigged out", becoming inspired to follow this career path while thinking "This is insane. I didn't even know they let black pilots get anywhere near airplanes. ... Where did he get trained? How did he get in the military? How did all this stuff happen right before my nose?".[1] In 1951, he became the first African-American male to graduate from Bishop Ward High School, a private Catholic high school in Kansas City, Kansas. He was a member of the National Honor Society and earned a scholarship to attend the Kansas City Art Institute.[6][7][8] Dwight enrolled in Kansas City Junior College (later renamed Metropolitan Community College) and graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in engineering in 1953.



Dwight enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1953.[9] He completed his airman and cadet pre-flight training at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas. He then traveled to Malden Air Base in Malden, Missouri, to finish his primary flight training. He earned a commission as an Air Force second lieutenant in 1955 before being assigned to Williams Air Force Base, southeast of Phoenix, Arizona.[6][7]

While training to become a test pilot, Dwight attended night classes at Arizona State University. In 1957, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering.[2][6][7][9] Dwight later completed Air Force courses in experimental test piloting and aerospace research at Edwards Air Force Base in 1961 and 1962, respectively.[10] He earned the rank of captain while serving in the Air Force.[11]

Pre-astronaut training

In 1961, Chuck Yeager was running the Aerospace Research Pilot School (ARPS), a US Air Force program that had sent some of its graduates into the NASA Astronaut Corps. Yeager said Curtis LeMay called and told him, "Bobby Kennedy wants a colored in space. Get one into your course."[12] Dwight was selected to enter ARPS shortly after that phone call. Dwight has said that Whitney Young of the National Urban League put the idea of a Black astronaut in President Kennedy's head during a meeting with Kennedy, Young, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and A. Philip Randolph. However, in Dwight's telling, this meeting happened in 1959, when Whitney Young was an unknown college administrator and Kennedy was a Senator from Massachusetts. Young's biographer says that this meeting did not happen.[13] Nonetheless, Dwight's selection into this Air Force program garnered international media attention, and Dwight appeared on the covers of news magazines such as Ebony, Jet,[14] and Sepia.[2][11][15]

Dwight proceeded to Phase II of (ARPS) [16] but was not selected by NASA to be an astronaut. He resigned from the Air Force in 1966, claiming, according to The Guardian, that "racial politics had forced him out of NASA and into the regular officer corps".[15][17][18][19]

In August 2020, Dwight was made an honorary Space Force member in Washington, D.C.[20]


After resigning from the Air Force, Dwight worked as an engineer, in real estate, and for IBM.[9] He opened a barbecue restaurant in Denver.[21] Dwight was also a successful construction entrepreneur and occasionally "built things with scrap metal". Dwight's artistic interest in sculpting and interest in learning about black historical icons grew after Colorado's first black lieutenant governor, George L. Brown, commissioned him to create a statue for the state capitol building in 1974.[17] Upon completion, Dwight moved to Denver and earned an M.F.A. in sculpture from the University of Denver in 1977.[11] He learned how to operate the University of Denver's metal casting foundry in the mid-1970s.[2][11]

Dwight has been recognized for his innovative use of negative space in sculpting.[2] Each of his pieces involves Blacks and civil rights activists, with a focus on the themes of slavery, emancipation, and post-reconstruction.[17] Most of the pieces depict only Black people, but the Underground Railroad Sculpture in Battle Creek also honors Erastus and Sarah Hussey, who were conductors on the Underground Railroad. Dwight's first major work was a commission in 1974 to create a sculpture of Colorado Lieutenant Governor George L. Brown. Soon after, he was commissioned by the Colorado Centennial Commission to create a series of bronze sculptures entitled "Black Frontier in the American West".[9]

Soon after his completion of the "Black Frontier in the American West" exhibit, Dwight created a series of more than seventy bronze sculptures at the St. Louis Arch Museum at the request of the National Park Service. The series, "Jazz: An American Art Form", depicts the evolution of jazz and features jazz performers such as Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, and Charlie Parker.[9]

Dwight owns and operates Ed Dwight Studios, based in Denver.[2] Its 25,000 square feet (2,300 m2). facility houses a studio, gallery, foundry, and a large collection of research material.[22][17] The gallery and studio is open to the public.

Suborbital spaceflight on New Shepard

In 2024, Dwight was selected in a suborbital spacefight mission to fly on a planned Blue Origin's New Shepard NS-25, sponsored by Space For Humanity in April 2024. He will become oldest person to fly in space at 90 years old surpassing William Shatner. [23] The others members of the crew are Mason Angel, Sylvain Chiron, Carol Schaller, Kenneth Hess and Thotakura Gopichand.[24]

Awards and honors

Personal life

Dwight was raised Catholic, and served as an altar boy.[30] In 1997, he was the lead sculptor on the statue of the Madonna and Child for the Our Mother of Africa Chapel, a structure devoted to African-American Catholics in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest church in North America. Dwight was the only black artist involved in the project. He was inducted into Phi Beta Sigma fraternity as an honorary brother at their 2023 conclave, held in Houston, Texas.[31]


As of late 2019, Dwight has created 129 memorial sculptures and over 18,000 gallery pieces, which include paintings and sculptures.[32] His works include these:[33]

Name Picture Location Unveiled Notes
African American History Monument South Carolina State House grounds – Columbia, South Carolina March 29, 2001 [2][33]
Alex Haley / Kunta Kinte Memorial The City Dock – Annapolis, Maryland December 1999 [2][33]
Black Revolutionary War Patriots Memorial Constitution Gardens – Washington, D.C. 1991 [2]
Captain Walter Dyett Statue Chicago, Illinois [33]
Concerto Folly TheaterKansas City, Missouri [33]
Dr. Benjamin Mays Morehouse College Commons – Atlanta, Georgia [33]
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Anne Arundel Community CollegeAnnapolis, Maryland 2006 [33]
Statue of Martin Luther King Jr. Houston, Texas 2007 [33]
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial City Park – Denver, Colorado 2002 [2][33]
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. & Coretta Scott King Allentown, Pennsylvania 2011 [33]
Gateway to Freedom International Memorial to the Underground Railroad Philip A. Hart Plaza – Detroit, Michigan 2001 [2][33][34]
George Washington Williams bust Ohio StatehouseColumbus, Ohio [2]
Hank Aaron Atlanta–Fulton County StadiumAtlanta, Georgia 1982 [33][4]
Inauguration of History and Hope – Inaugural Sculpture Scene of President Barack Obama Touring exhibit 2010 [33]
Jack Trice Memorial Iowa State UniversityAmes, Iowa [33]
Jazz: An American Art Form St. Louis Arch Museum – St. Louis, Missouri [9]
John Hope Franklin Tower of Reconciliation Tulsa, Oklahoma [33]
Mayor Harold Washington Harold Washington Cultural Center – Chicago, Illinois 2004 [33]
Memorial to Rosa Parks, Mother of the Civil Rights Movement Grand Rapids, Michigan 2010 [33]
Mother of Africa Chapel Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – Washington, D.C. 1997 [33]
Mr. Frederick Douglass Frederick Douglass National Historic Site – Washington, D.C. 1980 Dwight's first commission[33]
Quincy Jones Sculpture Park Chicago, Illinois [2]
Soldiers Memorial Lincoln University – Jefferson City, Missouri 2007 [33]
Texas African American History Memorial Texas State CapitolAustin, Texas November 19, 2016 [35] Erected by the Texas African American History Memorial Foundation.
Tower of Freedom International Memorial to the Underground Railroad Civic Esplanade – Windsor, Ontario 2001 [2][33][34]
Underground Railroad Memorial Kellogg Foundation headquarters – Battle Creek, Michigan 1994 [33]
United House of Prayer for All People Lincoln Cemetery – Suitland, Maryland 2008 [33]
William E. Smith, Director of Airports Denver, Colorado [33]
Denmark Vesey Monument Charleston, South Carolina 2014 [36]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "KCK Native On Being The First African-American To Train For NASA". Central Standard. Kansas City. January 19, 2017. NPR. KCUR-FM. Retrieved July 17, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Ed Dwight". The HistoryMakers. June 19, 2002. Retrieved July 25, 2015.
  3. ^ Dwight, Georgia A. "Guide to the Dwight Family Collection — Dwight family papers, 1921-1993". The University of Kansas Libraries. Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Archived from the original on September 19, 2015. Retrieved December 21, 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Negro Leagues Baseball eMuseum: Personal Profiles: Eddie Dwight". Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  5. ^ "Eddie Dwight Negro Leagues Statistics & History". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Robinson, Louie (July 1963). "First Negro Astronaut Candidate". Ebony. Vol. XVIII, no. 9. pp. 71–81. Retrieved July 17, 2020 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ a b c Gubert, Betty Kaplan; Sawyer, Miriam; Fannin, Caroline (2001). Distinguished African Americans in Aviation and Space Science. Westport, CT: Oryx Press. pp. 113–117. ISBN 1573562467.
  8. ^ "About Ed Dwight". Official website.
  9. ^ a b c d e f "Behind the Scenes". eddwight.com. Ed Dwight Studios, Inc. Archived from the original on August 9, 2015. Retrieved July 25, 2015.
  10. ^ Sanders, Charles L. (June 1965). "The Troubles of 'Astronaut' Edward Dwight". Ebony. Vol. XX, no. 8. pp. 29–36. Retrieved July 17, 2020.
  11. ^ a b c d White, III, Frank (February 1984). "The Sculptor Who Would Have Gone into Space". Ebony. Vol. XXXIX, no. 4. pp. 54–58. ISSN 0012-9011. Retrieved July 17, 2020.
  12. ^ Chuck Yeager, Yeager: An Autobiography (New York: Bantam, 1986), 269–270.
  13. ^ Paul, Richard; Moss, Steven (May 1, 2015). "First of Race in Space: Ed Dwight". We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program. University of Texas Press. pp. 89–104. ISBN 9780292772496.
  14. ^ "Report on First Negro Astronaut Trainee". Jet. Vol. XXIII, no. 26. April 18, 1963. pp. 15–19. Retrieved July 17, 2020.
  15. ^ a b Paul, Richard; Moss, Steven (May 1, 2015). "First of Race in Space: Ed Dwight". We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program. University of Texas Press. pp. 89–104. ISBN 9780292772496.
  16. ^ Multiple sources:
    • "Los Angeles Public Library Photo (1)". tessa.lapl.org. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
    • "Astronaut–Capt. Edward J. Dwight : Los Angeles Public Library Photo (2)". tessa.lapl.org. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
    • "Astronaut–Capt. Edward J. Dwight : Los Angeles Public Library Photo (3)". tessa.lapl.org. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
    • "Astronaut–Capt. Edward J. Dwight : Los Angeles Public Library Photo (4)". tessa.lapl.org. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  17. ^ a b c d Brune, AM (May 28, 2015). "Ed Dwight shows 'the angst, all the emotions' of black heroes in sculpture". The Guardian. Retrieved December 21, 2019. Originally from Kansas City, he joined the US air force in 1953, where he served as a fighter pilot and was appointed by President John F Kennedy to train as the country's first black astronaut. He left in 1966, he said, after racial politics forced him out of NASA and back into the regular officer corps.
  18. ^ Stone, Robert (Writer, Director, Producer) (2019). Chasing The Moon Episode 1 [It Took Millions of Steps to Make One Giant Leap] (DVD). WGBH Educational Foundation. Event occurs at 1:18:05. ISBN 9781531709419. OCLC 1531709419. AE61703.
  19. ^ Brown, Walter J. (July 16, 2019). "Ed Dwight Was Set to Be the First Black Astronaut. Here's Why That Never Happened". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved February 20, 2021.
  20. ^ "First Black astronaut candidate becomes honorary Space Force member". KUSA.com. August 15, 2020. Retrieved November 18, 2020.
  21. ^ "A Denver sculptor was the first black man trained as an astronaut ahead of Apollo 11, but he never made it to space". The Denver Post. July 5, 2019. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  22. ^ "About Ed Dwight". Ed Dwight Sculptor & Historian. Retrieved December 21, 2019.
  23. ^ "New Shepard's 25th Mission Includes America's First Black Astronaut Candidate". Blue Origin. Retrieved April 4, 2024.
  24. ^ "Who is Gopi Thotakura, the first Indian 'space tourist' to fly with Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin?". Hindustan Times. April 12, 2024. Retrieved April 14, 2024.
  25. ^ "Past Honorary Degree Recipients". Arizona State University. February 5, 2009. Archived from the original on September 3, 2019. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  26. ^ Schwier-Morales, Armando A. (August 7, 2020). "Space Force celebrates trailblazer". United States Space Force.
  27. ^ "2020 Honoree: Artist Award". Bonfils-Stanton Foundation. November 5, 2020.
  28. ^ "Newly Named Asteroids Reflect Contributions of Pioneering Astronauts". NASA. March 16, 2021.
  29. ^ "CAHSS Lifetime Achievement Award Winner: Ed Dwight". University of Denver. June 1, 2022.
  30. ^ Ludolph, Emily (July 19, 2019). "Ed Dwight was set to be the first Black astronaut. Here's why that never happened". The Philadelphia Tribune. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  31. ^ [1] (PDF). National Shrine: ARCHITECTURAL DETAILS OF THE BASILICA. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  32. ^ Proudfoot, Ben (December 19, 2019). I Was Poised to be the First Black Astronaut. I Never Made it to Space. | 'Almost Famous' by Op-Docs. New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2019 – via Youtube.
  33. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x "Memorials & Public Art". eddwight.com. Ed Dwight Studios, Inc. Archived from the original on December 21, 2019. Retrieved July 25, 2015.
  34. ^ a b "Underground Railroad Statuary and Memorial". detroit1701.org. Retrieved July 25, 2015.
  35. ^ "SPB - Capitol Grounds Monuments". tspb.texas.gov.
  36. ^ Parker, Adam (February 14, 2014). "Denmark Vesey monument unveiled before hundreds". The Post and Courier. Evening Post Industries. Archived from the original on November 1, 2020. Retrieved December 8, 2020.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ed Dwight.
  • Official website
  • Ed Dwight at IMDb
  • Barbaro, Michael (host), The Almost Moon Man, (July 21, 2019) The Daily. The New York Times podcast featuring journalist Emily Ludolph speaking with Ed Dwight.
  • Ludolph, Emily (July 16, 2019). "Ed Dwight Was Set to Be the First Black Astronaut. Here's Why That Never Happened". The New York Times.
  • DiMeo, Nate, The Ballad of Captain Dwight Archived September 6, 2017, at the Wayback Machine (August 28, 2015) Episode 75 of The Memory Palace, podcast centered on Dwight's astronaut training. Includes interview extracts.
  • I Was Poised to be the First Black Astronaut. I Never Made it to Space. on YouTube (December 19, 2019) part of The New York Times' Almost Famous Op-Doc series.
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