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Today we pay homage to the life and legacy of Katherine G. Johnson, following the announcement of her death at 101 years old. Katherine Johnson changed not only history, but the world with her contributions to the United States Aeronautics and Space program. As a black woman in the Jim Crow era, the barriers she would break and heights she would climb were unprecedented. She paved the way for women in science and set the standard for what people of color could do.
Born in August 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Katherine Johnson began breaking barriers at an early age when she graduated high school at only 14 years old. Her strong mathematical abilities would then take her to West Virginia State for college, and later West Virginia University in Morgantown as the first African American Woman chosen to integrate the graduate school.
With degrees in mathematics and french, Katherine began her career as a public school teacher before making the life changing decision to work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), now known as NASA. It was here that the “computer in a skirt,” would calculate the trajectory of Allen Sheppard’s 1961 space flight, and verify the numbers guiding John Glen’s orbit. Katherine is credited for helping to send the first man to the moon and her contributions to plans for a Mars Mission. She also made great strides to educate black women in her field on how to advance in their careers.
In a time where African Americans were overlooked and treated unfairly, Katherine Johnson never let the harsh reality of being a black woman in the 1950’s and 60’s discourage her from her ambitions. She humbly lived by her father’s words “You are as good as anybody else; you are no worst and you are no better.”
In 2016, Katherine, along with two other brilliant African American women, were honored in the film Hidden Figures. The film celebrates the lives of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, as well as highlighting their experience working at NASA. Johnson was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom award from Barrack Obama in 2015 and the Congressional Gold medal. In 2017, NASA’s Langley research center in Hampton, Virginia would name and open its newest research facility the “Katherine Johnson Computational Research Facility,” in honor of Johnson.
As a champion of STEM education and pioneer in racial equality, Katherine Johnson inspired the world to “like what you do, and then you will do your best.” The influence she had is unforgettable and the achievements she made are far from hidden.
In loving Memory of Katherine G. Johnson
August 26th, 1919- February 24th, 2020