Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Young, Gifted and Black – Summary
In 1957, a girl named Christine Mann starts her day by collecting newspapers at the library. The news is about nine black teenagers trying to go to an all-white school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Christine imagines herself in their shoes. People all over the world are following the story. Photos of black children being threatened by white police officers are everywhere. The United States tries to change the story, but it doesn’t work. Then, the Soviet Union sends a satellite into space called Sputnik. This is the start of the Space Age. Christine is scared because tensions between the US and Russia are increasing. People think that Sputnik is like a technological Pearl Harbor.
The lack of air force intelligence and technology during World War I led to the creation of the NACA. Now, the US has to compete with Russia and its space program. Many black newspapers blame the segregated school system for America’s lag in space technology. Russia makes sure all its students get a good education, but the US doesn’t give black students access to the best schools. Until the US stops being racist, it will never be better than Russia. Christine grew up in a town full of black people. Her dad works for a black-owned company that underwrites the home loans of black home buyers. She goes to a private school for black girls run by white missionaries.
Christine goes to college on a scholarship in 1958. The Soviets launch two more satellites, but the US is still struggling to find talented scientists and engineers. Eisenhower starts the National Defense Education Act to help cultivate STEM talent. Russian engineering schools have many female graduates, but the US doesn’t support women and black people in the sciences.
The story shows how important the news about the Little Rock Nine is, both for the country and for individual people like Christine. The US cares more about its image abroad than the well-being of black citizens. The shift towards space technology affects everyone, not just white Americans. Racism and segregation have hurt the country’s progress. Brown vs. Board is not an immediate solution. It takes time to integrate schools. The US is more ready to compete with Russia than to undo the harm caused by discrimination. Giving equal opportunities to all genders and races would make the US more competitive.
How does the black press link the desegregation of southern schools and the launch of Sputnik? What do you think is the reason behind doing so?
The black press in the 1950s and 1960s linked America’s failure to launch a satellite into space (Sputnik) with the poor condition of schools in the South that were segregated (separated by race). They argued that while the Russians were sending children to the best schools regardless of their race, in America, black students were being denied access to good education. They believed that the segregation of schools in the South was holding America back from achieving world leadership in technology and science. The black press believed that if black students were given equal access to education, America could produce the black scientists and engineers needed to overcome the technological challenges faced by the nation. The reason behind making this link was to highlight the importance of ending segregation in schools and to push for equal educational opportunities for black students.
Who is Christine Mann? How are events of the civil rights movement impacting her?
Christine Mann is a black American who grew up in Monroe, a small town in the South where the population was mostly black. She attended Winchester Avenue School and was concerned about how she and her fellow black students could compete with white students from the other side of town. Her parents, Noah and Desma Mann, were both teachers and valued education, hard work, and character. Christine was the youngest of five children and had an early interest in mechanics and driving. She attended Allen University to further her education.
Christine Mann is emotionally affected by the events of the civil rights movement, specifically the crisis in Little Rock, Arkansas. She reads about the nine black teenagers trying to integrate an all-white school and sees images of them being protected by military men from a hostile white crowd. This makes her feel fear, as she is already aware of the possibility of human extinction due to the Cold War, and she wonders how she would deal with the taunts, bottles, and epithets faced by the black students.
How did the Soviets having engineering schools dominated by women play in American press, especially in papers like the Washington Post?
The Washington Post reported in 1958 that “Red engineering schools” in the Soviet Union were “loaded with women,” with one-third of Soviet engineering graduates being female. This was contrasted with the United States, which still struggled to find a place for women and African Americans in its science workplace and in society as a whole.
Names mentioned in Chapter 15
The main character in Chapter 15 who starts her day by collecting newspapers at the library and follows the news about the Little Rock Nine. She imagines herself in their shoes and is scared about the tensions between the US and Russia during the Space Age. She goes to a private school for black girls and later receives a scholarship to attend college.
Little Rock Nine:
A group of nine black teenagers who tried to attend an all-white school in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. Their attempt to desegregate the school was met with resistance from white protesters and police officers, which made headlines worldwide.
The first satellite launched into space by the Soviet Union in 1957, which marked the beginning of the Space Age and increased tensions between the US and Russia during the Cold War.
National Defense Education Act:
A measure initiated by President Eisenhower in response to the post-Sputnik lament over the lack of American scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and technologists. It was designed to cultivate the intellectual talent required to generate successes in space and other areas.
Brown vs. Board:
A landmark US Supreme Court case in 1954 that declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. The case paved the way for the desegregation of schools, but the process took time and faced resistance from some white Americans.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969):
was the 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. Before becoming president, he was a five-star general in the United States Army and served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. As President, he oversaw significant domestic and foreign policies, including the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, and the desegregation of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. He also initiated the National Defense Education Act to cultivate intellectual talent in the fields of science and technology in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik.