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Carlee King Final Paper

Page history last edited by Carlee King 4 years, 1 month ago


Carlee King

Dr. H

Final Paper

April 24th, 2019

Ideals of Sexism and Racism in Hidden Figures

            Throughout the book, Hidden Figures, there are many opportunities to dig deeper into the meaning of the story. There are major key points to this book, including sexism, racism, and to have the motivation to achieve a goal. In this story, three African American women are given the opportunity to work at NASA, while one of those women, Mary Jackson, was moved to a branch of all white people and was discriminated against, not only because of her gender, but her skin color.

According to Smithsonian.com, the United States of American was headed into the second world war. With that being said, there was a big need for mathematicians and technologists. Although it was not popular, women were the answers to their problems. In 1935, women came filling into the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory and acted as human computers. Not only was it white women but African American women as well and with the separation of women from men, it was also whites and blacks. These black women were sent to another part of the building and referred to as, the West Computers. These women had a huge part in shaping history and opening the doors for both genders and all races. Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory was built in 1917 and was the headquarters for National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics until 1958, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration took its place. Although women were a huge part in the space race, women were not allowed to set foot in Langley until the 1940s. In 1941, A. Philip Randolph, proposed a march in Washington D.C. to draw attention to the issues of racial discrimination. This allowed black men and women to make their way into Langley and other organizations. Katherine Johnson was a big asset to Langley, whether they wanted to admit it or not. Katherine calculated many things, including the Mercury and Apollo missions. It is not clear on how many women worked at NASA but people estimate over a thousand. Langley was not just a space laboratory but it was the spark of gender and racial equality. (Wei-Haas, Maya)

            Mary Jackson, along with the other women, were discriminated because of their gender. They were put in a workroom, of all women, all African American women. These women were some of the smartest mathematicians, but never given the opportunity to really get into their job.  This was a huge problem within the world and a woman’s right to work along with men in the workforce was granted after this.

            Being considered a “computer” was very discriminating and dehumanizing. All of those hard-working women should be recognized as more than just a computer, but should be known as who they are. Katherine, like many others, worked hard for their position there at Langley. They spent most of their time in school to do their job, just to be dehumanized and not treated like how they should have been.

Katherine Johnson was born and grew up in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia where African Americans only get an education up to eighth grade (Ahmed, Saeed, and Emanuella Grinberg). By the time she was thirteen, Katherine was attending the high school campus of West Virginia State College. When she was eighteen, she enrolled at the college fulltime and quickly make her way through the school’s math curriculum. She became friends with math professor, W. W. Schieffelin Claytor, who was the third African American to earn a PhD in Math. Katherine later graduated with the highest honor and started teaching at a public school in Virginia. In 1939 Katherine went back to West Virginia University and enrolled in the graduate math program. It is pretty evident that Katherine devoted most of her life to being a mathematician. (Loff, Sarah)

After all this time, Katherine’s hard work and dedication had finally payed off. Although she is a woman, Katherine was given the opportunity to finally put her brain to action. She was moved to the facility’s Flight Research Division. She worked on the Soviet Satellite Sputnik and US space race. She also worked on the trajectories for Shepard’s Mercury flight, America’s first manned spaceflight, and she was also a huge asset to the landing and return of Apollo 13. (Ahmed, Saeed, and Emanuella Grinberg)

For close to thirty years, Katherine Johnson worked at NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia, where she faced many issues with racism and sexism. In the early 1950s, Katherine applied at the Langley Research Center as a mathematician. She first started out as a “computer” which is what they called the African American women. When she retired, she had accomplished so much and was rewarded for her hard work (Martin, Victoria St.). Her legacy impacted more lives than she will ever know. Katherine was then presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with other rewards, including, Honorary Doctor of Laws, the West Virginia State College Outstanding Alumnus of the Year, an Honorary Doctor of Science by the Capitol College, Laurel, Maryland, an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Old Dominion University, a NASA Silver Snoopy award, and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Arthur B.C. Walker II Award. (Vitug, Eric)

Women have played a huge role in history and Margot Lee Shetterly does a wonderful job showing this in Hidden Figures. Hidden Figures, is a wonderful book that expresses the issues of racism and sexism. It presents them in a way that is not graphic, but is a true depiction of how life really was for an African American and for a woman.






Ahmed, Saeed, and Emanuella Grinberg. “Katherine Johnson, Who Hand-Crunched the

Numbers for America's First Manned Space Flight, Is 100 Today.” CNN, Cable News

Network, 24 Feb. 2019, www.cnn.com/2018/08/26/us/katherine-johnson-hidden-figure-birthday-trnd/index.html.


Loff, Sarah. “Katherine Johnson Biography.” NASA, NASA, 22 Nov. 2016,



Martin, Victoria St. “'Hidden' No More: Katherine Johnson, a Black NASA Pioneer, Finds

Acclaim at 98.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 27 Jan. 2017,



Shetterly, M. L., & Smit, J. (2017). Hidden figures. Amsterdam: HarperCollins.


Vitug, Eric. “Katherine G. Johnson.” NASA, NASA, 25 May 2017,



Wei-Haas, Maya. “The True Story of ‘Hidden Figures," the Forgotten Women Who Helped Win

the Space Race.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 8 Sept. 2016, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/forgotten-black-women-mathematicians-who-helped-win-wars-and-send-astronauts-space-180960393/.




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