Lake City, South Carolina, recently built a memorial statue of Ron McNair, an African-American astronaut who died in the Challenger explosion in 1986.
According to the newspaper The State, McNair grew up in the segregated South--Lake City, South Carolina. When he was nine years old, he wanted to learn more about science and math than he was being taught in school. So, he went to the library. The librarian told him that he couldn't check out the books he wanted because the library only served whites.
McNair's reaction? He refused to leave until the library checked the books out to him. The librarian called the police and his mother, but McNair won the day. He got the books he needed to master advanced science and math and singlehandedly desegregated an institution to boot.
McNair went on to win a scholarship to North Carolina Agricultural & Technical University, where he excelled. For graduate school, McNair attended MIT, receiving a Ph.D. in physics in 1976.
McNair entered NASA in 1978; he was one of the first African-American astronauts. He went on his first mission in 1984, where he worked on a device for retrieving satellites. He also snuck on board a saxophone--he was an accomplished player, and composer Jean-Michel Jarre named the last piece on his album Rendez-vous after McNair who was to have participated in a live concert during the 1986 Challenger mission.
The Challenger exploded on its way to what would have been McNair's second trip to space on January 28, 1986.