Today, I watched "Hidden Figures," the biographical drama film based on the non-fiction book of Margot Lee Shetterly. In the film star Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, respectively, the black NASA employees who participated in calculating flight trajectories for Project Mercury in 1962.
Katherine Globe Johnson, known as the "Black Woman Who Advanced Human Rights and Humanity With A Slide Rule and a Pencil" (see AfroAmerica Network), is the
NASA mathematician, physicist, and scientist who used her math genius to guide to and land Apollo 11 on the moon and bring it back to earth.
But most importantly, she was resilient, determined, ready to overcome all the obstacles put in front of her because of her being black and a woman. Yet, at the time of the struggle and their almost impossible achievements, Katherine Johnson's, Dorothy Vaughan's, and Mary Jackson's odds of reaching such a human achievement were remote at the best, if not impossible.
It was the time when women were not encouraged to pursue high degrees or math and sciences. Moreover, they were Black women, born in a segregated America. Hence, as we follow in the movie, the odds stuck against them were almost impossible to overcome. They had to work hard, despite being looked down on, and to remain standing despite multiple deceptions to achieve what they wanted and, ultimately, deserved.
They accepted finite disappointments and challenges but they stood up, stood strong, and made the impossibilism plausible and, in the process, inspired infinite hope and achieved timeless recognition from their White colleagues and generations that followed and will follow. Overlooked, and hence hidden while their achievements had lifted the US nation above all nations, the three Black women have, finally, been given their place in history.
On November 24, 2015, Katherine Johnson, then 97, received the Presidential Freedom medal from President Barack Obama, the first African-American president. On May 5, 2016, at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, a research center, rightly named Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility was dedicated to her.
Now the film "Hidden Figures" has thankfully helped in rediscovering Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson and giving them the credit they have deserved for more than 50 years.
I invite all to watch the movie.
Felicien Kanyamibwa, PhD.