Forgotten Black Women Who Helped In NASA’s Space Race

Black women, who were human computers behind the biggest breakthrough in aeronautics, seem to have been forgotten by history.

The untold story of the brilliant Black women who made great contributions to the space race in the 1940s is to be depicted in a new movie and an upcoming book.

Margot Lee Shetterly, who grew up in the midst of intelligent female mathematicians and scientists in Hampton, Virginia, would go on to work in NASA like her father. “I would see them in the context of community organizations or church, or you’d run into them at the grocery store – they were my parents’ friends,” she says. It was an outstanding surrounding for her to grow up and have a great career, although it seemed normal to Lee Shetterly that so many Black women in her community had long careers at Langley, NASA’s research center.

Lee Shetterly, in her book (Hidden Figures), wrote about the Black women who did such great jobs in making some of the giant strides in aeronautics in 1940. Back then, just two percent of Black women attained a university degree and a half of them went on to become teachers. However, a few defied all odds and joined NASA (then known as the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NACA). The women made huge differences in some of the defining moments of the 20th century.

“For a long time, African-Americans were not allowed to read and write, we forget but it was not that long ago. Women were barred from studying at many colleges. If you are not able to read and write, then you are not going to be able to tell your own story. There haven’t been critical masses of women; minorities, whatever, and I think that’s something that is changing now,” Lee Shetterly said, after Katherine Johnson, a mathematician and scientist, whose calculations helped the moon landing, was honored with America’s highest civilian honor, The Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Lee Shetterly’s book, which has been turned into a movie, will star Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae. They play the roles of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Christine Darden respectively, who were ‘human computers’ in NASA and later worked their way up to become leaders of the engineering groups.

These Black women transcended sexism and racism to take on some of the most important scientific work in the world back then. Despite the fact that their great achievements have been forgotten by America’s history, such achievements can’t be hidden forever. The sheer brilliance of these Black women will be there for all to read and see in Lee Shetterly’s book and the upcoming film.

Source: The guardian

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