When "computers" were young, brilliant black women mathematicians

Margot Lee Shetterly's Hidden Figures recovers the lost history of the young African American women who did the heavy computational work of the Apollo missions, given the job title of "computer" -- her compelling book has been made into a new motion picture.

One such woman was Katherine G. Johnson. At 98, she still lives in Hampton, and has emerged as the most high-profile of the computers. In the last year, she’s won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saw a building named after her and had a bench dedicated in her honor. On her birthday, in late August, #HappyBirthdayKatherineJohnson started trending on Twitter. In a few months, Henson, an Oscar nominee, will play her on-screen.

Like a lot of the other computers, Johnson studied math in college. She was also one of three graduate students to desegregate West Virginia University in 1940, but marriage and a family derailed her plans for an advanced degree. At NASA, she worked on the life-or-death task of determining launch timing. Her calculations helped propel Alan Shepard into space and guided him successfully back to Earth; they landed Neil Armstrong on the moon and brought him home.

She never talked about work much, her daughter Joylette Hylick said recently.

“To come home and start talking about complex equations wouldn’t go over with teenagers,” Hylick explained. Plus, “we had activities — church, sports, music lessons, the whole nine, so it was quite a full life. She was not a stay-at-home but she also was not a workaholic in the sense that everything revolved around that.”


The nearly forgotten story of the black women who helped land a man on the moon
[Stephanie Merry/Washington Post]

Hidden Figures [Margot Lee Shetterly/William Morrow]


(Thanks, Jeremy!)

Loading...