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In Alabama, Democrat Fights History, Math in Senate Race

Renegade Republican Roy Moore may be plagued by scandal, but it will take more than that to convince the voters of 44th Place North to show up for Democrat Doug Jones on Tuesday.

In a state where Democrats are used to losing, the malaise is easy to find in this African-American neighborhood in suburban Birmingham, even on the final weekend before Alabama’s high-profile Senate contest.

“A lot of people don’t vote because they think their vote don’t count,” Ebonique Jiles, 27, said after promising a Jones volunteer she would support the Democrat in Tuesday’s election. “I’ll vote regardless of whether he wins or loses.”

Delicate balancing act

With history and math working against them in deep-red Alabama, Democrats are fighting to energize a winning coalition of African-Americans and moderate Republicans — a delicate balancing act on full display Saturday as Jones and his network of volunteers canvassed the state.

Nearly 100 miles south of Birmingham, during an appearance near the staging ground for Selma’s landmark “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march in 1965, Jones declared that Alabama has an opportunity to go “forward and not backward.”

“This campaign has the wind at its back because we are bringing people together from all across this state,” Jones said after a meeting at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church. “The other side is trying to divide us more than they bring people together.”

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, one of only two African-Americans in the Senate, was scheduled to appear at Jones’ side later in the day at Alabama State University. And Saturday evening, the Democrat organized two get-out-the-vote concerts expected to draw overwhelmingly white voters, including some open-minded Republicans, in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in more than a quarter century.

​Moore goes silent

Moore had no public events on Saturday, an extraordinary silence three days before the election but in line with a final-weeks strategy that featured very few public events in which he could be forced to address allegations of sexual misconduct. The former state Supreme Court judge got a big boost the night before in nearby Pensacola, Florida, where President Donald Trump encouraged voters to “get out and vote for Roy Moore.”

The 70-year-old Moore is facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, including allegations that he molested two teenage girls and pursued romantic relationships with several others while in his 30s. He has largely denied the allegations.

The explosive charges, which many Washington Republicans describe as credible, are giving Democrats a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pick up a Senate seat in the Deep South, where Republicans significantly outnumber Democrats. Even if Jones wins on Tuesday, many Democrats expect the GOP to re-claim the seat when the term expires at the end of 2020.

Tough math

Beneath Jones’ biracial and bipartisan balancing act is a complex numbers game that has vexed Alabama Democrats for decades.

The party’s core of black voters and white liberals — plus a smidgen of old-guard, more conservative “Southern Democrats” who’ve held on amid the region’s partisan shift — is worth no more than 40 percent in statewide elections. That’s been true in high-turnout elections, with former President Barack Obama twice landing between 38 and 39 percent, and the most recent governor’s race in 2014, when the Democratic nominee pulled 36 percent.

African-Americans make up about 25 percent of eligible voters, though Democratic pollster Zac McCrary said Jones needs black voters to comprise 27 percent or more of those who show up at the polls Tuesday. Jones then needs to win 1 in 3 white voters in the state, which would require capturing about 15 percent of Republicans, McCrary said.

Such dynamics are difficult to overcome, said Democratic strategist Keenan Pontoni, who managed the campaign of Georgia congressional hopeful Jon Ossoff earlier this year. Ossoff aimed for an upset in the 6th Congressional District of Georgia, but ultimately came up short in Atlanta’s Republican-leaning northern suburbs.

“The only way you win in these kinds of districts and states is a coalition that is obviously very hard to put together,” Pontoni said. “You’re going after voters who think and vote very differently.”

​Ground game

Much like Jones, Ossoff used an extensive, data-driven ground game to maximize Democratic support, while using television advertising to strike a moderate, non-partisan tone. Ossoff didn’t have a controversial opponent like Moore, but he ran against Washington dysfunction as a way to reach moderates.

On the ground in Alabama on Saturday, Jones dispatched hundreds of volunteers across the state to knock on doors to identify likely supporters in neighborhoods that featured high concentrations of African-Americans and Republicans who supported Moore’s GOP primary opponent, current Sen. Luther Strange.

Jones volunteer Dana Ellis, a 64-year-old nurse, navigated icy sidewalks in Birmingham’s Kingston neighborhood, which is overwhelmingly African-American, to ensure likely Jones supporters vote Tuesday. Unlike many states, Alabama doesn’t offer early voting.

“Roy Moore will not win if people turn out to vote,” Ellis said.

Many voters on the list provided by the campaign didn’t answer their doors Saturday morning. Those who did suggested they would support Jones, even if they didn’t know him well.

Oweda Clark, who lives just around the corner from 44th Place North, admits it’s hard being a Democrat in Alabama. But she told Ellis that she plans to vote for Jones anyway.

“I don’t like Roy Moore. I don’t like what he stands for,” she said.

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Montana Tribe Wary of Monument Offer, Seek Land’s Ownership

Even as it clashes with American Indians over reductions to national monuments in the Southwest, the Trump administration is pursuing creation of a new monument on the border of a Montana reservation where tribal officials remain wary of the idea.

The Blackfeet Indian Tribe has long fought oil and gas drilling and other development within the Badger-Two Medicine area, a mountainous expanse bordering Glacier National Park that’s sacred to the tribe.

Blackfeet Chairman Harry Barnes told The Associated Press that protection of that 200-square-mile (518-square-kilometer) area is paramount. He sees a “workable solution” in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposal to co-manage the area with the tribe, but stressed that the Blackfeet have never sought a national monument designation for the land.

“We want total return to Blackfeet ownership,” Barnes said Saturday, adding that the idea of a monument “has been proffered and advanced by others.”

Zinke says he’d seek congressional approval for the co-management proposal, part of his recommendation to create national monuments at Badger-Two Medicine and two other sites, a Civil War camp in Kentucky and the Mississippi home of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

Barnes cautioned that the tribe would be unwilling to surrender treaty rights dating to the 1800s that let its members hunt, fish and gather timber from the Badger-Two Medicine.

“The Blackfeet Tribe’s interest has always been protection of the Badger-Two Medicine,” Barnes said in an emailed response to questions from The AP. “We have fought a long time and we see it not being over yet.”

Tribe’s creation story

The Badger Two-Medicine has deep cultural significance for the Blackfeet as the site of the tribe’s creation story and a place where traditional plants are still gathered for medicinal purposes.

During the brutal winter of 1883-84, when hundreds of tribal members starved to death, others journeyed to the Badger-Two Medicine to hunt. They brought back enough food for their families to survive, said John Murray, the tribe’s historic preservation officer.

The land was part of the Blackfeet Reservation until 1896. That’s when the tribe sold it and adjacent property that would later become Glacier National Park to the U.S. government for $1.5 million, a deal some tribal members still dispute as illegitimate.

Badger-Two Medicine is now within the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Zinke’​s home state

Zinke, a former Montana congressman who grew up around Glacier National Park, recently told reporters that said he recognizes the area’s sacred value to the Blackfeet. He described the Badger-Two Medicine as “one of the special places in our country” and deserving of national monument status.

“Here is a virtually untapped area to do it right, to generate income through tourism, a greater understanding of the culture,” Zinke said on a conference call to discuss the administration’s actions on national monuments.

Informal talks on the Badger-Two Medicine are underway between the Blackfeet and Zinke’s office, Barnes said. Still, Barnes said the tribe remains united with a coalition of tribes in American Southwest that have joined with conservationists to fight Trump’s reductions to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments in Utah.

Barnes said the tribe remains opposed as a “general rule” to a federal monument designation for Badger-Two Medicine. But he added the tribe was working with Zinke in hopes of securing for the Blackfeet a permanent voice in how the land is administered.

Co-management common

The co-management of lands by tribes and government agencies has occurred numerous times elsewhere in the U.S., said Martin Nie, professor of Natural Resource Policy at the University of Montana.

It’s typically a way to balance tribal claims on public lands and resources against the federal government’s oversight responsibilities, Nie said. One of the most high-profile examples is the management of salmon in the Pacific Northwest, where tribes were given greater involvement under a court order.

In the case of the Badger-Two Medicine, co-management would put the Blackfeet on more equal footing with the U.S. Forest Service, Nie said. In the past, the tribe has been forced to react to actions affecting the land, such as government oil and gas leases issued in the Badger-Two Medicine in the 1980s, against the wishes of many tribal members.

Under co-management, the Blackfeet could have a say in such decisions.

However, Nie noted that Trump’s reductions to the two Utah monuments would call into question the permanence of the Antiquities Act, the 1906 law under which presidents designate monuments, if the reductions withstand legal challenges.

Zinke also recommended reductions in Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou monuments and opening other protected land and marine areas to more fishing, logging and other activities.

 

That should give the Blackfeet pause, Nie suggested.

“Why would the Blackfeet be interested in pursuing a national monument,” he asked, “if it can be undone by a successor?”

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Argentina Blocks Two Activists From Entry on Eve of WTO Meeting

Argentina blocked two European activists from entering the country on the eve of the World Trade Organization’s ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires, the two told a local radio program Saturday.

Sally Burch, a British activist and journalist for the Latin American Information Agency, said Argentina had already revoked credentials given to her by the WTO to attend the meeting but thought she would be able to enter the country as a tourist.

“They found my name on a list and started asking questions … supposedly I was a false tourist,” Burch said on Radio 10.

“It’s not very democratic of Argentina’s government.”

Petter Titland, spokesman for the Norweigan NGO Attac Norge, said authorities denied him entry without explaining why.

Late last month, Argentina rescinded the credentials of 60 activists who had been accredited by the WTO to attend the meeting because it determined they would be “more disruptive than constructive.”

WTO meetings often attract protests by anti-globalization groups, but they have remained largely peaceful since riots broke out at the 1999 meeting in Seattle.

WTO’s spokesman, Keith Rockwell, reiterated on Saturday that it disagreed with Argentina’s decision to revoke activists’ credentials. “We didn’t have the same perspective but we’re now moving on,” Rockwell told journalists.

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri has promoted business-friendly policies since taking office in December 2015, and Argentina will host global events as chair of the G-20 group of major economies next year.

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Trump Speaks at Opening of Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

U.S. President Donald Trump says he is “moved” by the opening of a civil rights museum in Jackson, Mississippi, where he praised civil rights leaders such as Medgar Evers and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Trump’s presence at the event was controversial among his critics, who say he has fueled the fires of racial tension in the United States. Civil rights icon and congressman John Lewis, who was scheduled to speak at the event, announced on Thursday that he would not attend because the president will be there.

Trump kept his remarks at the event low-key, speaking to an audience that included Evers’ widow, and Ben Carson, Trump’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. To the creators of the museum, Trump said, “We are truly grateful … we admire you.”

Trump took special note of pastors like King, who he said “started the civil rights movement.” Of the civil rights leaders profiled in the museum and their peers, Trump said, “We strive to be worthy of their sacrifice.”

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a supporter of Trump who invited the president, welcomed the president to the podium by saying, “What a wonderful day this is for us all.”  He said this week Trump’s attendance will draw global attention and provide the museums with a key boost.

The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum offers a stark look at the often bloody struggle for civil rights in the American South from 1945 through 1976. Exhibits include such weapons of terror and hate as a Ku Klux Klan cross and the gun used to murder Medgar Evers.

There also is a Museum of Mississippi History, which provides a 15,000-year review of the state’s history from prehistoric times to present day. The two distinct museums under a single roof both open Saturday, the day before the 200th anniversary of Mississippi becoming the 20th state.

“President Trump’s attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum,” Lewis said in a statement. “President Trump’s disparaging comments about women, the disabled, immigrants, and National Football League players disrespect the efforts of Fannie Lou Hamer … Medgar Evers, Robert Clark, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and countless others who have given their all for Mississippi to be a better place.”

Lewis, who is 77 years old, worked with Martin Luther King, led the civil rights march on Selma, and spoke at the March on Washington in 1963. For the last 21 years, he has represented the state of Georgia in the House of Representatives. He was scheduled to be one of the main speakers Saturday.

The White House said it was “unfortunate” that Lewis would not be at the opening.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said the president “has always condemned racism, violence and bigotry and hatred in all forms. We stand by that.”

The president has come under criticism from some for his reluctance to condemn the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer. He also has been relentless in his criticism of the silent, bent knee protests during the national anthem staged by NFL players in their attempt to bring national focus to the police brutality directed on African American men.

Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of assassinated Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers, was also one of the featured speakers at the opening event. Evers-Williams has said she would address Trump’s presence, although the president may be gone by the time she speaks.

Derrick Johnson, the NAACP president, told CNN that he will not attend the opening either. Johnson said Trump’s presence at the museum is “an affront to those individuals who fought for voting rights to ensure that people had quality education and access to health care …Those are principles this President does not support.”

The White House said Trump hopes others will be there to acknowledge “the movement was about removing barriers and unifying Americans of all backgrounds.”

Some African Americans, although opposed to Trump, were going to attend anyway. The Rev. C.J. Rhodes, a prominent clergyman and son of one of the state’s top voting rights lawyers, said he would be there. He said Trump sharing the day is part of Mississippi’s “complicated, complex, conflicted narrative.”

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Capitol Hill Comes to Terms With Sexual Harassment Debate

From Hollywood to major media outlets, high-profile men are stepping down or being fired from their jobs for alleged sexual misconduct. The issue is now making headlines at the U.S. Capitol, where a wave of allegations is forcing out U.S. lawmakers from both political parties. VOA’s Congressional reporter Katherine Gypson has the latest from Capitol Hill.

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Protesters Lash Out at Trump Across Muslim World

Large crowds of protesters across the Muslim world staged anti-U.S. marches Friday after the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with protests in Gaza leading to the death of one Palestinian man.

The Palestinian, Mahmoud al-Masri, 30, was killed by Israeli soldiers during clashes along the Israel-Gaza border after Palestinians called for a “Day of Rage” to protest the U.S. action. The Israeli military confirmed that it shot two people in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, accusing them of being “main instigators” of “violent riots.”

Israeli warplanes also struck Hamas military targets in Gaza in response to a rocket fired from the area. The Palestinian health ministry said at least 15 people were injured in the strikes.

Demonstrations also took place Friday in Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Pakistan, Lebanon, Malaysia and Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

The Arab League, comprised of nearly two dozen countries, will meet Saturday in an effort to create a joint position on the matter.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the United States plans to move its embassy there. Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its capital. The Palestinians want the eastern part of Jerusalem for its capital of a future independent state.

​Holy sites

Israel has added additional security forces in Jerusalem. In the past, Israel has imposed age restrictions at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount compound where violence often erupts during tense times.

Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said, “We have no indication there will be disturbances on the mount, therefore there is no age restriction. If there will be disturbances, then we will respond immediately.”

The site is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. It is the holiest Jewish site and the third holiest in Islam.

The Islamist group Hamas, meanwhile, has called for an uprising against Israel.

​Decade of diplomacy defied

Trump’s announcement defies decades of diplomacy in the quest to bring peace to Israel. Jerusalem has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the quest and it was widely believed that a solution would be reached in the peace process negotiations.

The White House on Thursday denied that the president’s announcement on moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem means his administration is pulling out of the Middle East peace process.

“In fact, in the president’s remarks, he said that we are as committed to the peace process as ever, and we want to continue to push forward in those conversations and those discussions,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters. “And hopefully the ultimate goal, I think, of all those parties is to reach a peace deal. And that’s something that the United States is very much committed to.”

No other country has immediately followed Trump’s lead in planning to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something the White House has acknowledged.

“I’m not aware of any countries that we anticipate that happening at any point soon,” Sanders said. “I’m not saying that they aren’t, but I’m not aware of them.”

The Russian ambassador in Israel, Alexander Shein, said Moscow could move its embassy to West Jerusalem “after the Palestinians and the Israelis agree on all issues of the final status of the Palestinian territories.”

The Russian foreign ministry, in a statement viewed as a surprise by Israelis, said it considers “East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. At the same time, we must state that in this context we view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

​To draw up plans

Trump, on Wednesday, said he was directing the State Department to immediately begin drawing up architectural plans for a U.S. embassy in the holy city. But the actual relocation of the U.S. embassy, however, would take years, according to White House officials.

“We have to acquire a site, we have to develop building plans, construction plans, as you point out, ensure we get the authorizations — although I do not anticipate any difficulties getting those authorizations. And then actually build an embassy,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday at a joint press conference with his French counterpart in Paris.

“So this is not something that is going to happen this year, probably not next year,” Tillerson added, also noting that Trump was careful to say in his speech Wednesday that recognition and moving the embassy do not indicate any final status for Jerusalem.

Both Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have expressed concern about the timing of Trump’s announcement, according to U.S. officials.

Asked by VOA whether the president’s declaration had been delayed at the request of the two Cabinet members in order to put into place adequate security at U.S. embassies, Sanders replied the decision was made only after “a thoughtful and responsible process” and that “components of the decision went through the full interagency process.”

Palestinian officials say Trump’s decision has disqualified the U.S. as an honest broker in the peace process. Many U.S. allies are also disagreeing with the move.

Robert Berger in Jerusalem, and Steve Herman at the White House contributed to this report.

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Wind, Fire, Ash Destroy Much of California Avocado Crop

The wildfire that roared through the orchards of California’s Ventura County destroyed much of the region’s avocado crop not just with flames, but also with fierce Santa Ana winds and a thick blanket of ash.

With the so-called Thomas Fire just 10 percent contained by Friday afternoon, after blackening more than 132,000 acres across Ventura County and destroying some 400 homes and other structures, it is too soon to know the extent of the damage to the upcoming avocado harvest.

But experts say even the mostly family-owned orchards spared by the epic conflagration may have suffered devastating losses to their crops from the hot, dry Santa Ana winds that blow out of the California desert, knocking avocados from the trees with gusts up to 80 miles per hour. (129 kilometers per hour)

The fruit cannot be sold for human consumption once it is on the ground because of food safety regulations.

“A lot of that fruit everybody was looking forward to harvesting next year is laying on the ground,” said John Krist, chief executive of the Ventura County Farm Bureau.

​Vulnerable to the wind

Avocados are the rare produce trees planted in hillside groves because of their shallow roots, said Ben Faber, a University of California farm adviser in Ventura. The fruit, typically harvested in February or March, is full-sized and heavy by December, held by a long stem.

Those factors make avocados, already growing away from their natural environment in Central and South America, more vulnerable to the whipping winds than the lemon orchards dotting the flatlands of Ventura, Faber said.

Lemons are also a lighter fruit with a shorter, sturdier stem. Ventura County is California’s largest growing region for both lemons and avocados. The state produces about 90 percent of the nation’s avocado crop and 80 percent of its lemons.

Delayed impact

Some avocado trees that do not appear to have been scorched could also reveal damage later, collapsing from internal heat damage. Fruit that did not burn or get blown off the branches may be sunburned by the loss of canopy.

Both lemon and avocado crops are also likely to suffer further from the thick coating of ash left by the Thomas Fire, which interferes with the natural enemy insects that hunt the pests feeding on the fruit trees. Those enemy insects are known to growers as “bio-controls.”

“When you get all this ash, they can’t do their jobs,” Faber said of the enemy insects. “That’s going to cause a disruption to the bio controls that’s going to go on for a year or more. So the impact of the fires is not all immediate.”

Unlike grapes at wineries in California’s Napa Valley wine-growing region hit by wildfires in October, however, avocados and lemons will not be affected by smoke from the fires because of their thick skins.

Experts said at the time that the delicate grapes, if exposed to sustained heavy smoke, could be vulnerable to “smoke taint,” which can alter their taste and aroma.

Prices not likely to rise

Consumers are not expected to see an impact on avocado prices because Ventura County is only a small piece of the worldwide production chain dominated by Mexico and South America, the farm bureau’s Krist said.

Avocado prices have been higher in most U.S. markets during the second half of 2017, according to the Hass Avocado Board, in part because of a poor harvest last year in the United States and Mexico.

The wildfire news didn’t have a major effect on the stock price of the Limoneira Company, the nation’s largest avocado grower, as shares closed essentially unchanged on Friday.

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‘Worker Bee’ Round of NAFTA Talks to Focus on Easier Chapters

NAFTA trade negotiators convene in Washington next week for a limited round of talks unlikely to move the needle on major sticking points, but aimed at demonstrating some progress toward closing easier chapters.

Last month’s round of negotiations to update the North American Free Trade Agreement in Mexico City failed to resolve major differences, as Canada and Mexico pushed back on what they saw as unreasonable U.S. demands on automotive content rules, dispute settlement and a five-year sunset clause.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said that the United States wanted to see “meaningful progress” before year’s end.

The “intersessional” meetings in a Washington hotel come with lower expectations and without trade ministers from the three countries, who are due to attend a World Trade Organization meeting in Buenos Aires.

Some lobbyists and trade experts said that chapters with the best chances of showing progress were among those that Canada and Mexico had agreed to create or update in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal: digital trade, food safety, state-owned enterprises and telecommunications.

NAFTA negotiators have not closed any chapters since completing talks on competition policy and small-medium enterprises in late September. Talks have since been dominated by U.S. demands, such as for half of all North American automotive content to be produced in the United States.

Less rhetoric, more substance

“The intersessional could be a chance to turn the temperature down,” said Max Baucus, a former U.S. senator who chairs Farmers for Free Trade, a coalition of U.S. farm sector groups. “This should be a round for the worker bees, with less rhetoric and more concrete negotiations.”

A senior Canadian government source said no progress would be made on the most contentious issues at the Washington talks.

Separately, Canada’s chief negotiator, Steve Verheul, said the U.S. “extreme proposals” were proving very hard to deal with.

“We will not accept U.S. proposals that would fundamentally weaken the benefits of NAFTA for Canada and undermine the competitiveness of the North American market in relation to the rest of the world,” Verheul told Canadian lawmakers this week.

The Washington meetings follow stepped-up lobbying efforts by NAFTA backers in the United States to warn against the dangers of withdrawing from the nearly 24-year-old trade pact.

Top Detroit auto executives met with Vice President Mike Pence, and pro-trade Republican senators met with President Donald Trump.

Moises Kalach, the head of Mexico’s CCE business lobby and a government consultant, said that the United States would need to back off from some of its “extreme” positions for compromises to be made.

“We’re ready to dance. The question is whether the American government is willing to do so,” Kalach told Reuters.

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First Black Astronaut Honored on 50th Anniversary of Death

AP Photo NY560, NY561, NY562

America’s first black astronaut, Air Force Maj. Robert Lawrence Jr., finally got full honors Friday on the 50th anniversary of his death.

Several hundred people gathered at Kennedy Space Center to commemorate Lawrence, who almost certainly would have gone on to fly in space had he not died in a plane crash on Dec. 8, 1967.

The crowd included NASA dignitaries, astronauts, fellow Omega Psi Phi fraternity members, schoolchildren, and relatives of Lawrence and other astronauts who have died in the line of duty.

Lawrence was part of a classified military space program in the 1960s called the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, meant to spy on the Soviet Union. He died when his F-104 Starfighter crashed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He was 32.

Astronauts at Friday’s two-hour ceremony said Lawrence would have gone on to fly NASA’s space shuttles and that, after his death, he inspired all the African-American astronauts who followed him. 

 Like Lawrence, Robert Crippen was part of the Air Force’s program. It was canceled in 1969 without a single manned spaceflight, prompting Crippen and other astronauts to move on to NASA. Crippen was pilot of the first space shuttle flight in 1981.

With a doctoral degree in physical chemistry — a rarity among test pilots — Lawrence was “definitely on the fast track,” Crippen said. He graduated from high school at age 16 and college at 20.

“He had a great future ahead of him if he had not been lost 50 years ago today,” Crippen said.

Lawrence paved the way for Guy Bluford, who became the first African-American in space in 1983, Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space in 1992, and Charles Bolden Jr., a space shuttle commander who became NASA’s first black administrator in 2009. Next year, the International Space Station is getting its first African-American resident: NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps.

Another former African-American astronaut, Winston Scott, said his own shuttle rides into orbit would not have happened if not for a trailblazers like Lawrence. In tribute to Lawrence, a jazz lover, Scott and his jazz band serenaded the crowd with “Fly Me to the Moon” and other tunes.

Lawrence’s sister, Barbara, a retired educator, said he considered himself the luckiest man in the world for being able to combine the two things he loved most: chemistry and flying.

Lawrence’s name was etched into the Astronauts Memorial Foundation’s Space Mirror at Kennedy for the 30th anniversary of his death in 1997, following a long bureaucratic struggle. It took years for the Air Force to recognize Lawrence as an astronaut, given he’d never flown as high as the 1960s-required altitude of 50 miles.

The Space Mirror Memorial bears the names of two other African-Americans: Ronald McNair, who died aboard space shuttle Challenger in 1986, and Michael Anderson, who died on shuttle Columbia in 2003.

Marsalis Walton, 11, who drove from Tampa with his father, Sam, came away inspired. He dreams of becoming an astronaut.

“It feels good that everyone has a chance to do anything,” the boy said.

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