Charles J. Lang, a California educator who helped minorities achieve new heights, died on April 30 of complications from pneumonia. He was 81.
Lang earned his bachelor’s degree at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, and his master’s and doctoral degrees in education from UCLA. During the Korean War, he commanded integrated infantry troops and became one of the Army’s first black combat photojournalists. The Tuskegee Institute later honored Lang with its Distinguished Alumni Merit Award.
After the war, Lang taught in Los Angeles elementary schools. Combining his skills in education, photography and flight, he created the filmstrip, “Equal Opportunity in Space Science.” The National Aeronautics and Space Administration distributed the 1963 filmstrip in schools across the United States.
As co-founder and associate director of the Watts Skills Center, Lang guided black youths toward careers in science. For three decades, he taught English at West Los Angeles College, and encouraged students to “use their education and minds to achieve success.”
In the late 1970s, NASA asked Lang to help recruit minorities and women astronauts. Three candidates — Dr. Ronald McNair, Maj. Guion Bluford Jr. and Maj. Frederick Gregory — became the first blacks named to the space shuttle team. The Los Angeles Community College District nominated Lang for NASA’s Teacher in Space program. On Jan. 28, 1986, the chosen teacher, Christa McAuliffe, McNair and five other astronauts died in the Challenger explosion.