NASA Legend: Katherine Johnson

With the recent release of the film Hidden Figures: a previously unknown story about three Black American female mathematicians who became the first to work for NASA, has been brought to public attention. But with most Hollywood films that deal with Black History, this film has to have a “white savior,” making it seem that blacks can’t do anything without the help of whites, when in reality these women not only were self sufficient, but if anything they were the black saviors whom the white male dominated staff at NASA couldn’t do anything without.

This was definitely the case with Katherine Johnson who accurately calculated the distance to and from space and designed back up plans to get astronauts back to earth safely.

NASA would have never been able to successfully send the first U.S. Male to space in 1961, be able to send the men to the moon and back in 1969, and bring back the men of the ill fated Apollo 13  space mission the year after without Katherine.

During the thirty three years she spent at NASA, her distinctive choice of eyewear were thick black frames on top with thin metal frames below, which gave her an authoritarian look despite working in a white male dominated environment.

Born in 1918, Katherine Johnson showed an aptitude for Maths from a young age with her parents encouraging her talents.

She was sent to a school ways away from where they lived, because there were no local schools for black children beyond the age of thirteen near their home.

By the time she was in College, Johnson was taking every maths course she could find, and would eventually graduate at the age of eighteen with full honors. She was brilliant in mathematics.

One of her first jobs after graduation was as a teacher at an all black school in Virginia just before World War Two broke out in Europe.

After taking some time off to get married, and to raise a family, Johnson went to work for NASA in 1953 where she was instructed by fellow mathematician Dorothy Vaughan.

At the time, all of Black female mathematicians had to eat, work and use restrooms separately from their white male counterparts, in keeping with the segregation laws at the time which was just when the Civil Rights Era was beginning to gain momentum.

Desegregated five years later, no doubt as a result of the black women working there and changing racist attitudes with their work successes.

In 2015 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the then President Obama.

In early 2017 her story (and that of Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson) became the subject of the film “Hidden Figures.”

Now aged ninety eight years young and she enjoys seeing her children whom she had with her first husband who died before she  later remarried.

Johnson has since abandoned the thick on top, black framed spectacles and has chosen to wear thin metal framed ones instead.

These Univo U5 glasses are very similar to the ones Katherine Johnson used to wear whilst working at NASA. As well as Black they are also available in Brown/Tortoise, Maroon, Blue, Wine and Tortoise shell.

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