HIDDEN FIGURES – AFRICAN AMERICAN GO S.T.E.M.

The movie “Hidden Figures,” which started playing last month, January 6 th nationwide has been one for conversation amongst the African American community. Watching this movie became afamily affair.

It was for many families history that parent wanted their children to see.

The world was able to watch and become in gulf within the lives of these three women,

Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan. While their stories are compelling

(and clearly make for great dramatization in movie form), the work of their colleagues who still

remain in history’s shadows was also of great importance. Here are a few of the other black

women of NASA you need to know who served during the “Hidden Figures” era. Their stories

are told in Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA, a book written by Sue

Bradford Edwards and Dr. Duchess Harris (whose own grandmother was one of the

“computers”), and published by ABDO in December 2016.

This true story gave moviegoers the opportunity to celebrate the life of the three African-

American women who worked as NASA’s “human computers.” These unsung heroes made it

possible to send Americans into space

The movie gave the audience a chance to witness and become a part of their stories by

the sounds and applause that were express while watching the movie. There were many major

points made in the movie, but one that stood out was the powerful message to never give up on

yourself, your dreams and the ability to prove your worth in a way that people, companies and

others will have to respect what your experience is, your knowledge and your education history.

Many sacrifices were made in-order for those three women to make it to where their ended up.

The movie Hidden Figures selected three dynamic women to act the parts of the three

NASA women.

Katherine Johnson, born in 1918 in the little town of White Sulphur Springs, West

Virginia. She was a research mathematician, who by her own admission, was simply fascinated

by numbers. NASA mathematician also received the nation’s highest civilian honor, National

Medal of Freedom, 2015. She was fascinated by numbers and smart to boot, for by the time she

was 10 years old, she was a high school freshman. It was a normal thing that many education

stopped at eighth grade.

Her father, Joshua, was determined that his bright little girl would have a chance to meet her

potential. He drove his family 120 miles to Institute, West Virginia, where she could continue

her education through high school. Her father, Joshua, was determined that his bright little girl

would have a chance to meet her potential. He drove his family 120 miles to Institute, West

Virginia, where she could continue her education through high school.

Mary Jackson was hired by NASA in 1951 as a research mathematician in the segregated

West Computers Section, and would later work as an aerospace engineer. While her

contributions to aerodynamic studies were significant, Jackson sensed that she could have a more

profound impact at the agency by transitioning from the applied sciences to human resources. If

that seems like a self-imposed demotion, don’t be deceived. By 1979, Jackson had taken on a

new role as an affirmative action program manager and federal women’s program manager. In

that capacity, she was able to make changes that helped women and people of color, and assisted

managers in noting the accomplishments of their black and female employees.

For too long, Jackson had noticed that her qualified and talented black and female (and,

especially, black female) colleagues were not always getting promoted as quickly as their white

male counterparts. Jackson took a searching look at the structural inequalities within NASA that

contributed to these failure-to- thrive scenarios, and decided that she could have the greatest

impact in a formal human resources role, rather than simply in one of informal advisement to

disappointed and frustrated colleagues.

Dorothy Vaughn joined NACA’s segregated West Area Computing Unit in December

1943, a group she would run six years later thanks to her mathematical prowess and leadership

tenacity. She was a math whizzes at an early age. She alone with Katherine Johnson and Mary

Jackson juggled their love for numbers with desires for family life and battles against

segregation.

Each would ultimately make major contributions to aeronautics. Vaughn mastered

computer programming and helped the agency transition from human to IBM computers.

Jackson became NASA’s first black female engineer and a leader in research on supersonic

flight. And Johnson made the crucial calculations that guided the late John Glenn and America’s

first manned missions into sub orbit, orbit and beyond.

These three unsung heroes took the lead in the movie, but there were hundreds of black

females mathematicians who made crucial contributions to America’s space program.

We would like to thank all of these ladies and the dynamic Hollywood actresses that

portrayed their lives, Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson, Octavia Spencer as Dorothy

Vaughan and Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson.

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