For 32 years, a NASA rocket testing center in southern Mississippi has carried the name of John C. Stennis, a former United States senator who was a champion of racial segregation for most of his time in Congress.
Now, as the nation navigates a moment of reckoning over statues and other symbols of its racist past, William Pomerantz, vice president of special projects at Virgin Orbit, is leading an effort to strip the Democratic senator’s name from the John C. Stennis Space Center near Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.
“You Google him and the very first results that show up, whether it’s the Wikipedia page or however you got your search engine settings tweaked, pretty much all of them within the first paragraph are going to use the terms of ‘white supremacy’ and ‘segregation,’” Mr. Pomerantz said.
Mr. Pomerantz made his case for renaming the Stennis Space Center on Twitter on June 24, the day NASA announced that it was naming its Washington, D.C., headquarters for Mary Jackson, its first Black female engineer and a pivotal figure in helping the first American astronauts reach space. The campaign to rename the Stennis Space Center was reported by SpacePolicyOnline.com.
Mr. Stennis, who died in 1995 at 93, represented Mississippi in the Senate from 1947 to 1989. His New York Times obituary described him as “the last of the Senate’s Southern barons” and said he was for a time the most influential voice in Congress on military affairs.
He also joined many Southern Democrats in opposing civil rights legislation. He was one of 19 senators who signed the Southern Manifesto, which said the Supreme Court had abused its power and infringed on states’ rights when it ruled, in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, that racially segregated public schools were inherently unequal. He later voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.