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(By Chris Sharp) It was the morning of 47 years ago this past July 20, Cape Kennedy, Florida.  A mosaic of assorted Americans was spread out around the cars and the vans that had started parking there the previous afternoon.  They were watching in the near distance a tall rocket that looked as if it had landed there on the day that the earth had stood still. I was there also, when I was a 20-year-old federal government employee working for the US Office of Opportunity.  I had parked a van there as well that had brought about a half African-American young people to watch the first three people from earth being rocketed to the earth’s plaything, the moon.

The people of Florida were having a lot to get used to that year. Along with Virginians, Floridians were the only Southerners to decidedly vote for the winning Republican candidate in 1968, Richard Nixon.  And President Nixon had widely declared that he was a different person than was the “Old Nixon,” and now all the Florida newspapers and TV stations were watching him closely to find who and what the “New Nixon.” was

Another new phenomenon in 1969 was the new movement of Southern Republicans, which in my experience started in Florida.  The old Southern Democrat, for example, would commonly wear a white shirt and tie to office work.  To escape from that entire scene, the new Southern Republicans started wearing light-colored suits to their offices.  Another thing that started happening was that Florida Southern Republicans worked to get rid of their Southern accents and to begin talking more like Richard Nixon  How to accomplish that?   I noticed more than a few white businessmen suddenly talking to themselves in the streets of Orlando.  After a while I concluded they were actually practicing the Northern vowels that were so in vogue in Orlando at that time (In a later trip to Orlando in 1975 I could not find the one-time prominent Southern accent anywhere among the city population.)

But my most memorable day in Florida was that morning that the half dozen kids I brought from out African-American town of Eatonville.  We all watched the Apollo II being launched by rocket a so huge it seemed like the eighth wonder of the world, and so seemingly slowly off the earth’s surface that there seemed to be something funny with the law of gravity going around there.

The boys I brought with me to Cape Kennedy were around 10 to 15 years old. That means that now 47 years later these boys would be between 57 years old and 62, perhaps just starting social security.  Periodically I wonder about how much they remember of that day.  One thing I remember vividly is one of their mothers later in tears   vividly thanking me for making arrangements for her son to see the first men fly to the moon.

I knew that I didn’t have much more time with these young men I took to the space launching.  Three weeks later my assignment as a VISTA Volunteer – at that time a kind of Peace Corps volunteer who concentrated on community development in America – expired.  I was then taken back from Florida all the way back to my home on the West Coast.

Read more here: A Sharp View: Outer space is out there for the SCV youth