By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent@StacyBrownMedia
Katherine Johnson, one of the African American women whose stories received global attention in the bestselling book and blockbuster movie, “Hidden Figures,” has turned 101.
The renowned mathematician was instrumental in Alan Shepherd’s 1961 journey to space. She also played a pivotal role in John Glenn becoming the first American to successfully orbit Earth one year after Shepherd’s flight.
Johnson will also receive a Congressional Gold Medal thanks to a bipartisan bill passed by Congress earlier this month.
All four of the heroines depicted in “Hidden Figures” will receive recognition. In addition to Johnson, Dr. Christine Darden, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson will also receive medals. Vaughn’s and Jackson’s medals will be presented posthumously.
The book, “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race,” by Margot Lee Shetterly, helped tell the women’s story.
“Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Dr. Christine Darden made monumental contributions to science and our nation,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
Harris and five other members of Congress introduced legislation to secure Congressional Gold Medals for Johnson and her colleagues.
“The groundbreaking accomplishments of these four women and all of the women who contributed to the success of NASA helped us win the space race but remained in the dark far too long,” Harris stated.
“I am proud our bill to honor these remarkable women has passed Congress. These pioneers remain a beacon for Black women across the country, both young and old.”
The honor isn’t the only one for Johnson. Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) agreed this month to rename its 7000 Columbia Gateway Drive building in Columbia, Maryland, the Katherine G. Johnson Building.
A plaque will be placed at DreamPort’s 7000 Columbia Gateway Drive entrance commemorating the naming of the building in honor of Mrs. Johnson and her legendary accomplishments as a NASA mathematician and her essential role in the space program, according to a news release. At 101 years of age, Mrs. Johnson is the recipient of numerous honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, multiple NASA Langley Research Center Special Achievement awards, and many others.
In addition to the recognition by COPT, Johnson has other buildings, schools, and libraries named after her.
In an earlier interview, Johnson told NNPA Newswire that she missed working.
“I’d go back now,” she said.
After leaving her teaching job in 1953, Johnson began working for NASA and was able to calculate the trajectory for numerous space missions, including for the space flight of Alan Shephard, the first American in space and the path for the famed 1968 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon.
“I’d do them over if I had to. I’d do anything for anyone,” Johnson stated.
At an early age, Johnson developed enviable math skills so much so that even NASA officials wrote a story about her titled, “The girl who loved to count.”
“I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to the church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed anything that could be counted, I did,” Johnson said.
“I entered college; I was 15. I was going to be a math teacher because that was it. You could be a math teacher or a nurse, but I was told I would make a good research mathematician and they had me take all of the courses in the catalog,” she stated.
When Glenn went to the Moon, Johnson said her “Hidden Figures” crew acted as the computer for the mission. Calculating everything involved in the flight became like a geometry problem, Johnson recalled.
“I felt most proud of the success of the Apollo mission. We had to determine so much. Where you were, where the Moon would be and how fast the astronauts were going,” Johnson stated. “We were really concerned, but the astronaut had to do it just as we laid it out. I was looking at the television and hoping that we’re right.” On September 14, 2019, I attended the 2019 Women of Color Empowerment Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa. I was with a group of teenage girls who were volunteering at the conference. It was a marvelous experience for me, and here is what I learned and took away from the conference:
We were able to participate in a class on money management, taught by Ms. Delores McKenzie. In one of our sessions, we discussed about how we should save our money, and why you should save money. I also learned you shouldn’t really use credit cards. When you purchase something using a credit card, and you don’t have enough money to pay the bill when it is due, overtime, these bills add up and you will become in debt.
We also had a session on stem where we were able to code programs, and I had a pleasant time. I was able to create my own game from coding, which was educational and enjoyable.
We also had Black men and women, who worked in the stem field present to us. They discussed the importance of having Black women working in the stem profession. The panel also informed us we needed more women, especially Black women because very few work in stem fields.
The experience of going to the conference was amazing. I learned how to code and how to manage my money. I would recommend young Black girls attend this conference because they will learn about many things and will be empowered.