Moderates had definite cause to worry. In late 1958, syndicated columnist Drew Pearson warned local leaders that the United States might curtail military spending in the South because of its "race problems." Officials at the arsenal and space center found recruitment increasingly difficult, as highly educated students from northern and western universities hesitated to move to the volatile South. Rocket engineer Wernher von Braun begged city and state leaders to work to improve their state's race relations. In a June 1965 speech to the Alabama Chamber of Commerce, he cited a letter published in the Congressional Record, in which three University of Rochester (New York) students stated that they would refuse to take a job in Alabama "due to the unfavorable posture of this state in racial matters." As von Braun added, a number of his recruiters had received similar "testimonials-in-reverse." He asked the assembled businessmen and businesswomen to take a "positive and constructive" approach to solving the state's problems, and counseled state leaders to "work hard to shed the labels of obstructionism and defiance that have been applied to us." Alabama needed to take proactive steps to repair its reputation if its businesses, public and private, were to recruit top-level researchers and technicians.
Von Braun praised the state's business community, whose members had formed groups such as Birmingham's Committee of One Hundred to call for communication and cooperation between white political leaders and civil rights activists. Moderates would play an important role in the coming civil rights struggles of the mid-1960s. Granted, many moderates cautioned against acquiescence with the demands of African Americans for full equality, and in states such as Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, moderates were a distinct minority within the larger white community. However, by fighting to create a favorable climate for business across the South, economic leaders provided an important voice of moderation as the black freedom struggle staged a frontal assault on the segregationist foundation of southern society.