Moon Landing, Milton Berle, Soup Kitchens and Lost Dreams

Updated: July 27th, 2009, 9:06 am


  by  Roy Beck

Forty years ago this morning, I was visiting with Milton Berle in his hotel room near Grand Rapids, Michigan, sharing our reactions to watching the moon landing in the middle of the night. That evening, we met again over a giant bowl of potato salad at a backyard picnic as Congressman Gerald Ford dipped along with us and excitedly recounted his phone call from Pres. Nixon minutes after the moon walk.

This is why kids aspire to be news reporters.  You never know what you might be doing when something big happens.


The moon landing inspired big dreams in lots of people.

The year 1969 for my emerging generation was a time of big dreams about a world at peace, the end to racial conflict and disparities in America, and the beginning of a stabilizing U.S. population with a sustainable lifestyle. 

If we could put a man on the moon after only a decade of work, why couldn't we achieve these other goals? 

That was a summer when I donned riot gear to accompany police during a few nights of race riots (small echoes of the violent eruptions of 1968).  The northern ghettos of the Black underclass no longer were content with promises; they wanted full access to the middle-class economy.

And it was the year when Michigan passed an environmental protection law that became a model for 1970's federal environmental act.  Business decisions could no longer be made simply based on the bottom line but also how they would affect the quality of life of Americans not yet born.  


Waking up to NPR's report on the 40th anniversary this morning, I instantly felt myself back in that time, and thinking about what I thought the United States would be like by now.

It wasn't the U.S. that I know today.

Once again this weekend, Shirley and I spent several hours at a soup kitchen, assisting 250 people in our community for whom the dreams of 1969 have not happened. As usual, most of the recipients of a meal, groceries and bus passes were Black Americans both recently and chronically out of the labor force. Nobody has been more devastated by federal policies of flooding the labor market with foreign workers than Black Americans. Their unemployment rates are through the roof. 

Visiting with them for hours Saturday, we couldn't conjure much hope at all that their lives had a chance of being transformed by a job.  As I have said repeatedly for 20 years, there are many key ingredients to why the Black underclass has remained so large, but one of the most important has been congressional insistence at blocking their participation in the labor force by substituting foreign workers.


In the middle of today, our staff drove many miles west of Washington D.C. to our technology bunker that houses all of our website, faxing and internet equipment alongside that of defense contractors and the nation's largest internet businesses.

When I moved here in 1987, most of the area through which I drove today was still farmland.

About 2 million acres of farmland and natural habitat have been cut, scraped and developed every year in this country since we landed a man on the moon -- and since Americans adopted a replacement-level, average-2-child family in 1972.  

There are many reasons for this continuing rape of our nation's natural heritage, but the most important one is that federal immigration policies have mandated massive, unrelenting population growth.

About 40 years ago, Pres. Nixon suggested at the time the country's population reached 200 million that we might do well not to add a third 100 million.  He appointed a bi-partisan commission that recommended that the U.S. stabilize its population as soon as possible.

But here we are more than 100 million people later and headed for 500 million after the middle of this century. 

Anniversaries can be sad reminders of how badly we've screwed up. The Baby Boom generation with all of our high ideals has let environmental sustainability and racial egalitarianism slip from our grasp because as a whole we have never confronted the insistence of Big Business and Big Government for a constantly growing population.


I was just a kid reporter myself back in 1969 when I was assigned to go interview TV pioneer comedian Uncle Miltie who was in town as the headliner for the Lowell Showboat.

I had been up much of the night with other young reporters from the Grand Rapids Press watching the black and white images from outer space. My assignment editor brought me back down to earth with an order to go interview Berle. When I knocked at his door, I had to wait for him to rise and throw on a robe.  His morning voice was in the basement. But, oh, was he excited about the landing.

Gerald Ford was even giddier at the picnic that evening, and really tickled that Nixon had chosen to share his own excitement with him.

WE HAD DONE IT!  The United States had done something on the moon that humans for centuries had only thought was a fairytale dream. If only we could achieve dreams back on Earth so easily.

ROY BECK is Founder & CEO of NumbersUSA

Black Americans