By now you may have seen or heard of the critically acclaimed 2017 film, Hidden Figures. The feature film depicts the lives of three African-American women who worked as mathematicians for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The heartfelt film sheds light on the 'hidden figures' in the space race in the 1960s. The untold story of Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson is exceptionally remarkable as these women did not only face gender discrimination during their time at NASA but also overt racism.
Against all odds, these resilient women worked through the Civil Rights movement during the Jim Crow era in the United States. The trio who were often referred to as the 'Computers in Skirts' used separate washrooms across campus and even worked in NASA's segregated West Area Computer Division.
Since Vaughan, Johnson and Jackson faced a 'double jeopardy' social construct being Black and women, it is not hard to believe that their pivotal contributions were not acknowledged and left out of history. Nevertheless, their expertise and thorough calculations made it possible for John Glen historic orbit of Earth to take place in 1962. But who were the remarkable women that inspired the motion picture (starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe) Hidden Figures?
An Introduction To The Triple Threat:
Born 1910 in Kansas City, Missouri Dorothy paved the way for Johnson, Jackson and other minorities as she was the first African-American manager hired by NASA. She was a teacher during World War II and left her position to work at Langley. After the war, she was asked to oversee the West Area Computing Unit when segregation laws were enforced and African-Americans were forced to disengage with their white colleagues.
Vaughan lead the department from 1949 to 1958. She was a miraculous computer programmer and contributed to the Scout Launch Vehicle Program before retiring in 1971. Dorothy Vaughan (whose character was played by Octavia Spencer) passed away in 2008.
Born 1918 in West Virginia, Katherine Johnson always had a knack for numbers and used to count everything as a little girl. The young genius sped through grade school and was ready for high school at the age of 10. Her father made it a point to move the family in order to allow his daughter to reach her full potential.
After graduating college, she was a teacher and a stay-at-home mother until she was hired by NASA’s National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics as they began to hire African-American women during the second world war. With her impressive skills, Johnson moved on to work for NASA's Langley Research Center’s Guidance and Navigation Department contributing to the groundbreaking Redstone, Mercury, and Apollo space programs until 1986. Johnson is currently 98 years old and her character was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in the film.