Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson were some of many African American mathematicians that worked for NASA in the 1960s. They made incredibly prodigious work for NASA and helped with many noteworthy achievements made at the time. This made me feel proud of the work they did especially at a time where it was very difficult for a woman to of color to obtain a high place in society. Katherine Johnson made calculations that were pivotal to the first US manned spaceflights, Dorothy Vaughan was a human computer at NASA and worked many other prestigious jobs, and Mary Jackson was an aerospace engineer that worked for NACA. I would love to go into a STEM major but at times I hold myself back because society has made me think that as a woman of color I shouldn’t participate in these types of projects. In Hidden Figures Theodore Melfi argues that gender and racial ignorance in the workplace oppressed women, but women concurred this ignorance by educating themselves and speaking against segregation to their supervisors.
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In the movie, Hidden Figures Theodore Melfi included a scene where Al Harrison, Katherine Johnson’s boss, asked her where she went for 40 minutes every day. To this Katherine replied with a speech that basically said that there were no colored bathrooms in the building where she was working so she had to walk half a mile in order to reach the nearest colored bathroom. To this, Al’s response was to go down to the bathroom in the building they worked in and take down the “colored ladies restroom” sign by beating it down. Al Harrison then said “there you have it. No more colored restrooms, no more white restrooms, just plain old toilets”.
This scene was very powerful to me. It made me realize all of the sufferings women of color have had to endure throughout history in order to fight against segregation and oppression. It also made me realize that as much as we have fought against this as women and people of color both of these issues are still very much alive today. I have to endure these problems in my everyday life. My workplace, my school, and most public settings are examples of places where I suffer through these obstacles. In many of my classes, I hold myself back because I know that my English, being my second language, is not my strong suit. I feel that when I speak without hesitation people judge me and the way I pronounce some words or how it sometimes takes me a second to think of common words. This affects my education because I hold myself back and I cannot express my true self freely.
The movie Hidden Figures takes place in the 1960s. This was a time period filled with racism and discrimination. It was very socially acceptable for people to treat the black community and women visibly different. The civil rights act was passed in 1964 which finally forced people to not be able to separate races publicly. Unfortunately, in Katherine Johnson’s case, she was still living in a time where they had segregated restrooms. This impeded her and many other people of color to reach their potential. There was also a lot of discrimination happening at this time. Both women and people of color were being trivialized for something they could not control. The discrimination of the African American community was an act that was being fought against extensively during this time. Katherine Johnson did her part in this by speaking against segregation in the workplace to her boss and creating a change in her well-known work environment.
In the movie, Hidden Figures Theodore Melfi incorporated a scene where Mary Jackson, an African American mathematician working for NASA, went to the courthouse to petition so she could take engineering classes at an all-white high school. When she told the judge she was petitioning to take classes in Hampton High school he reminded her that it was an all-white high school and that Virginia was still a segregated state. When the judge questioned what an African American woman would want to do at an all-white school Mary Jackson replies with a very inspirational speech. It reads, “I plan on being an engineer at NASA… Which I can’t do without you, sir. Your Honor, out of all the cases you’re going to hear today, which one is going to matter a hundred years from now? Which one is going to make you the first?”.
I connected to this scene in many ways. My parents immigrated from Mexico to the United States in the mid-1980s and started a family. That makes my sisters and I the first at almost everything. Not only are the first to have an education beyond 6th grade but we are high school graduates and college students. I had never put much thought into the first people of color who began to educate themselves, how frightening that must have been for them, and how proud they must have been of themselves after achieving this. I know that it is one of my parents proudest moments when they tell people from their native town that they have daughters going to college and succeeding in life, doing something they could never do. The way that Mary Johnson took her educational career into her own hands and believed this was something she was destined to do was amazing. I hope to be the type of woman that captures everything I know I deserve.
The lack of education for women of color in the 1960s affected the way they could move forward in their life. If a woman wanted to educate themselves at this time, especially in a STEM program, they needed to make a huge stand against the law and common social beliefs.
Hidden Figures Hidden Meanings. (2021, Mar 20).
Retrieved February 9, 2023 , from
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