Katherine Johnson

On Monday of this week, the world awoke to news that Katherine Johnson — one of the pioneering black women featured in Hidden Figures — had died at the age of 101. As a human computer, Johnson worked for NASA, from the World War II era through the mid-eighties, developing mathematical calculations for the United States to get a human into orbit and also to the moon and back. Johnson’s story is detailed in the bestselling book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and she is portrayed by Taraji P. Hensen in the 2016 film, which garnered multiple Oscar nominations.

This news came with special significance to some of us here at Irmo Branch Library. Just this past week, the Multimedia Book Club met to discuss Hidden Figures, comparing the book and the film, which our branch showed earlier this month. While the film offers an entertaining look at a portion of Johnson’s story, the book brings to the forefront the overall impact of the black women of NASA, with Shetterly’s personal knowledge and careful research of women including Johnson and her colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and others. The book goes beyond the Space Race, explaining how these women’s lives and work affected the trajectory of the Civil Rights Movement as well as desegregation in the institution of higher education in America.

As Shetterly said Monday, in light of Johnson’s death. “The wonderful gift that Katherine Johnson gave us is that her story shined a light on the stories of so many other people. She gave us a new way to look at black history, women’s history and American history.”

As we remember Katherine Johnson — human computer, NASA employee, mathematician and a woman who changed the world — you might want to learn more about her story. Hidden Figures is available as an ebook or audiobook on Hoopla; you can check out the family-friendly movie and there’s a book specifically for younger readers.

Hidden Figures
Reaching for the Moon
Counting the Stars
Hidden Figures
Counting on Katherine
Katherine Johnson
A Computer Called Katherine

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