African American Women in “Hidden Figures”

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The United States of America’s involvement in World War II affect many people in terms of their daily living. Black and white people experienced segregation and discrimination due to Jim Crow laws. With this, black people were encouraged more to work hard to provide the needs of their family. Particularly, the Space Race was one of the most important events that happened during WWII and moving through the Cold War. A group of black women who are Mathematicians participated and contributed in achieving the goals of launching rockets and astronauts into space. Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of the Hidden Figures, described how discrimination played a role to the four African American women- Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden- that inspired them to work harder and be participated in NASA’s greatest successes.

On the book’s first three chapters, Shetterly describes how black women get jobs after they graduate in College. She emphasizes the role what President can do to the people like them. President Roosevelt opened a wartime job, he gives prominence to the black women to work at Langley, a laboratory where aircraft manufactures. During that time, they were looking for Math graduates in South. Luckily, Dorothy Vaughan was a Math teacher and now doing a job of laundry in Camp Pickett that pays her twice her salary in being a teacher. She has four kids and she thinks this job would help them to get their kids into school. She works hard until she decided to apply in NACA in 1943 as one of the women engineers.

The author of the book also talks about what a mother can do just to have her kids a better future. Vaughan has to sacrifice her family because Langley is too far from her home. She goes to work by riding public transportation such as buses. Due to Jim Crow laws, discrimination is everywhere. Even in her workplace, black people have their own place called “West Area.” Everything is separated including the cafeteria, bathrooms, etc.

On the other hand, the author introduces Katherine Johnson. Katherine’s dedications as a black woman teacher invited her to all-white West Virginia University to teach Mathematics. However, the fate was not into her during this time. Afterall, she made a choice to stop doing her job as a teacher because she met her husband and they had a family.

On the 10th Chapter of this book, Shetterly mentions Mary Jackson who also joins the West Computing after eight years Vaughan had joined. Dorothy and Mary might have a gap for this job but they know that everything is possible to help the Space Race to be accomplished. Mary also experienced racism into this job as well as Dorothy. Years has passed but the discrimination is still there. It would be giving them a hard time experiencing racism on their workplace but they chose to be strong and believe nothing is impossible.

In 1953, Katherine was accepted in Langley. Like Dorothy and Mary, she’s also determined that having a dedication in this job would allow her to work harder without thinking about the racism in this society. Shetterly portrays that Dorothy being the first generation among them to take this job was determined to achieve the goals and the fate of having a more progressive career. With this, Katherine learns more about how to control and accept the racism or being part of the “colored signs” as well as Dorothy and Mary.

Shetterly describes how discrimination in public school ends in 1954 when Brown v. Board of Education has passed. The social change is real and happening during this time. Moreover, the Space Race is also happening when the Russians started to launch the Sputnik. After four years, the NACA becomes part of the NASA or National Aeronautics and Space Administration. They had the first project called Project Mercury. The goal of this project is to investigate the ability of a human in space.

Katherine works hard in the NASA project. These black women who started from doing planes shifted to help build rockets and astronauts in space. John Glenn, the first man to come into space won’t make it possible without the help of the brilliant engineers and mathematicians to accomplish the space program.

Shetterly also included that Christine Mann took part in the Langley program in 1967. This is when she met Katherine. Likewise, mentioning Dorothy by Shetterly made it possible. Katherine played a major role in this story. But, Dorothy, who works in aeronautics research for 20 years helped Katherine a lot. They found a true friendship with each other.

After reading Hidden Figures, I learned a lot about U.S. History. From racism, discriminations, laws, civil right, etc. to a successful space program made it possible. I like how Shetterly defines the different themes in this book such as Scientific Progress, Discrimination/Racism, Community, Family, and Hard Work. Also, the stories that make the characters to be connected with each other because of the different similarities that they are experiencing in their life.

I recommend Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly because the reader will learn more about America’s history particularly in 1950’s to 1960’s. Also, I watched the movie version of this book and it was great. From the book’s title itself, it will give you a clue what are the hidden figures or events happened in America’s history.

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African American Women in "Hidden Figures". (2020, Aug 18). Retrieved July 13, 2024 , from

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