WTVM Editorial 1/13/17: Hidden Figures should inspire students of all races

(WTVM) - I just saw the new movie Hidden Figures about three amazing African American women whose prowess at math and science made it possible for NASA to launch men safely into space.

This is a story that should be taught in schools, but it isn't and that's a shame. The movie is called Hidden Figures: word play on the untold story of three extraordinary brilliant African American women everyone should know about.

Their names are Kathryn Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson. Kathryn Johnson was a math prodigy, beginning in high school at age 10 and going to college at 14.

She figured out the correct trajectory for the first manned space flight and the 1969 moon landing by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

All three of these black women and dozens more like them, highly skilled in math, who also worked on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space missions -- were subjected to the cruelest racism and sexism, to succeed at computing – in fact their job title was "computer"…before computers as we know them were invented.

It was a time when our country desperately needed their brainpower. The Russians were winning the space race until Kathryn Johnson and her fellow computers were chosen to figure out the correct path to space.

They were geniuses who computed impossible equations with just pen and paper and simple adding machines and their own brainpower.

But NASA kept them hidden. The space program was a man's world then. Women black and white did play big roles but never got the spotlight.

Nasa was heavily segregated in the '50's and 60's by race and by gender, and these brilliant women had to battle bigotry and work in obscurity for decades, their story nearly lost to history.

It's easy to take for granted our personal computing power now. This smartphone is 120 million times faster than the crude and slow computer the astronauts used to help them land on the moon.

Kathryn Johnson couldn't rely on anything, no device and no help from others. She only had her sharp mind to make intricate calculations.

Teachers ought to find a way to share the stories of Kathryn Johnson and these other incredible women.

Their stories could inspire a whole new generation of math wizards, showing young men and women of all races that anything is possible.

It's high time these inspirational figures are no longer hidden.


General Manager Holly Steuart brings two editorials a week to WTVM. If you would like to respond to an editorial, e-mail your response to hsteuart@wtvm.com or write to:

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