“They asked Katherine Johnson for the moon, and she gave it to them.” https://t.co/qq2HChKgzi
— Michael Bennet (@SenatorBennet) February 24, 2020
… As Mrs. Johnson herself was fond of saying, her tenure at Langley — from 1953 until her retirement in 1986 — was “a time when computers wore skirts.”
For some years at midcentury, the black women who worked as “computers” were subjected to a double segregation: Consigned to separate office, dining and bathroom facilities, they were kept separate from the much larger group of white women who also worked as NASA mathematicians. The white women in turn were segregated from the agency’s male mathematicians and engineers.
But over time, the work of Mrs. Johnson and her colleagues — myriad calculations done mainly by hand, using slide rules, graph paper and clattering desktop calculating machines — won them a level of acceptance that for the most part transcended race.
“NASA was a very professional organization,” Mrs. Johnson told The Observer of Fayetteville, N.C., in 2010. “They didn’t have time to be concerned about what color I was.”…
Creola Katherine Coleman was born on Aug. 26, 1918, in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., the youngest of four children of Joshua and Joylette (Lowe) Coleman. Her mother was a schoolteacher, her father a farmer.
From her earliest childhood Katherine counted things: the number of dishes in the cupboard, the number of steps on the way to church and, as insurmountable a task as it might pose for one old enough to be daunted, the number of stars in the sky.
“I couldn’t wait to get to high school to take algebra and geometry,” Mrs. Johnson told The Associated Press in 1999.
But for black children, the town’s segregated educational system went as far as only sixth grade. Thus, every fall, Joshua Coleman moved his family 125 miles away to Institute, W.Va.
In Institute, Katherine’s older siblings, and then Katherine, attended the high school associated with the West Virginia Collegiate Institute, a historically black institution that became West Virginia State College and is now West Virginia State University.
Mr. Coleman remained in White Sulphur Springs to farm, and, when the Depression made farming untenable, to work as a bellman at the Greenbrier, a world-renowned resort there.
Katherine entered high school at 10 and graduated at 14. The next year she entered West Virginia State. By her junior year, she had taken all the math courses the college had to offer.
Her mentor there, William Waldron Schieffelin Claytor, only the third black person to earn a doctorate in mathematics from an American university, conceived special classes just for her.
“You would make a good research mathematician,” he told his 17-year-old charge. “And I am going to prepare you for this career.”
“Where will I find a job?” Katherine asked.
“That,” he replied, “will be your problem.”…
Then, in 1952, Katherine Goble heard that Langley was hiring black women as mathematicians…
After a lifetime of reaching for the stars, today, Katherine Johnson landed among them. She spent decades as a hidden figure, breaking barriers behind the scenes. But by the end of her life, she had become a hero to millions—including Michelle and me. pic.twitter.com/isG29nwBiB
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 24, 2020
We're saddened by the passing of celebrated #HiddenFigures mathematician Katherine Johnson. Today, we celebrate her 101 years of life and honor her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers: https://t.co/Tl3tsHAfYB pic.twitter.com/dGiGmEVvAW
— NASA (@NASA) February 24, 2020