Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly had me hooked from the start. A true feminist masterpiece, it tells the stories of the unacknowledged African American women who sacrificed much of their own lives in the name of science. Shetterly explains blatantly the trials of race and gender that African American women went through during this time.
The paths of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden cross during World War II and continue through the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, and eventually the Space Race. In a time where women worked primarily in the home, the United States government was calling on women to work in fields almost always filled by men: janitors, launderers, you name it. But these four women rose to the occasion and became something much more than anyone imagined was possible.
“Everyone said, ‘This is a scientist, this is an engineer,’ and it was always a man… I just assumed [the women] were all secretaries.”
With their out-of-this-world mathematical skills, Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine were hired by Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory for their all-black “West Computing” group. The women felt constant pressure to prove themselves to their white (and male) coworkers. Keep in mind that these were times of strict “separate but equal” segregation. All of the African American employees were limited to coloured bathrooms, coloured workstations, and even coloured lunch tables. But these women refused to let their segregated workplace get them down.
“Their facilities might be separate, but as far as the West Computers were concerned, they would prove themselves equal or better, having internalized the Negro theorem of needing to be twice as good to get half as far.”
The stories of these women are so groundbreaking and empowering. I am inspired and amazed at their strength, and I hope you will be too. The odds were definitely stacked against them in a predominately white and male profession, and rather than accepting the unfairness of it all, they made names for themselves as some of the most valuable assets of many of NASA’s greatest achievements to date.
Hidden Figures is in theatres near you now! I can’t wait to go and see it! Watch the trailer here.
Savvy Readers, we’d love to hear your thoughts! Did you love Hidden Figures as much as I did? Let us know in the comments or send us a tweet @SavvyReader!
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