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*We ALL know that the public educational system in the United States has been woefully deficient in including the contributions of African Americans. I still remember the moment when I, as a 2nd grader, pieced together than the black American revolutionist Crispus Attucks fought in the same Revolutionary War that included Paul Revere and the rest of the white folks in powdered wigs and stockings. I like to tell myself that things have changed since then, and they HAVE, but when you stumble across a largely untold, unknown story like this, you have to wonder “how much?”.

A group of black, female college-educated mathematicians and chemists worked for NASA beginning in the 1940s, and helped land John Glenn and his colleagues on the moon.

Yes, they did!

97-year-old retired African American NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson was one of them. She was one of dozens of “human computers” who were hired by NASA Langley Memorial Research Laboratory in the 1940s.

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They were called “human computers” because before machines were designed, built, and perfected, these pioneering women crunched the numbers necessary to figure out everything from wind tunnel resistance to rocket trajectories to safe reentry angles..

If you’re like me, just reading those terms almost gives you a headache.

All of Langley’s hundreds of “human computers”, both black and white, were women, during an era when, as Johnson has said, “the computer wore a skirt.”

The same shortage of men that drove women into manufacturing jobs during World War II led Johnson and others to their “human computer” gigs. In 1941, President Johnson signed an order mandating the hire of more African American workers. Two years later, Langley started hiring college-educated black women with backgrounds in math and chemistry.  They earned $2000 annually — a far higher salary than most educated women were making at the time.

Despite the financial boon than Johnson and others enjoyed, they faced many of the same discriminatory practices that other African Americans faced in the 1940s. They were forced to work in a separate facility than their white colleagues, had to use separate bathrooms, and had to sit at a “colored only” table in the cafeteria. The lab the women worked in was even on the site of a former plantation! 

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Read more at EURThisNthat.