COMING SOON: Papa Put a Man on the Moon

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My family has a long history in a little mill village in Slater, SC. My mama grew up there with her two sisters, Kathy and Elizabeth. My grandparents, Kathryn and Oscar, lived there in a little house on Webster Street where we celebrated many Easters, Thanksgivings, Christmases, birthdays, and regular days, somehow fitting family and extended family and friends into a five-room house.

I remember walking to the general store to buy penny candy. If someone happened to be sitting on their porch as I passed by, they knew me, even though I had never lived on that hill.

The families that lived on that hill mostly lived there for generations. Many of them worked at the J.P Stevens textile mill that had given birth to the community back when companies built housing for their employees and owned all the stores in town too. My own grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents all worked in the textile mill at one time or another. I remember visiting my grandmother Kathryn when she worked as a switchboard operator, right inside the entrance of the mill. Yes, an actual manual switchboard at which she pulled corded plugs and inserted them into the appropriate jacks to connect the caller to the correct extension. It seems like something that should have been before my lifetime, but no, I remember it clear as day. My papa had several different stints at the mill too, in between other jobs. The mill and the community center provided by the company were the center of this community.

In the late 1950s, as cotton mills moved to Asia, the Slater mill turned toward production of fiberglass fabric, a move that would eventually provide them with a government contract to produce Beta-cloth, a special fabric engineered by Dr. Frederick Dawn of NASA. The Beta-cloth would be used as one layer in the spacesuits of the astronauts who would land on the moon. This was a secret project and only a few workers at the mill were chosen for it. Those that did were grateful for the work and for the ability to continue making a living at what they knew and what they did best.

It wasn’t until Neil Armstrong actually stepped onto the moon that Slater, SC even began to consider its role in this monumental American achievement. And even then, some of the impact on this community was lost to history until recently.

This is the story of the legacy of one community, written to honor the hundreds of thousands of hands in many factories across the United States that “touched the face of the moon” through their work ethic in weaving, building, and fabricating the pieces and parts that were required to put a man on the moon.

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to share this story with the world.

Coming from Dial Books for Young Readers in May 2019, written by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Sarah Green.

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