History has taught me through all levels of school (elementary, Jr. high, and high) about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks. I didn’t learn necessarily in that order, but they were the first three black icons to come to mind in reference to this blog. However, and later in life, I would find there were plenty others never to be mentioned.
School history did not teach me that Mrs. Rosa Parks was not the first black to defy the law of sitting in the back of the bus and getting arrested for the same.
Bayard Rustin, an openly gay black Civil Rights leader who organized the March on Washington, D.C. way back in 1963, sat in defiance before the legendary
Mrs. Rosa Parks. He was arrested for the same act, but it was not widely publicized because he was gay, black, and a man, which is another part of history I did not learn in school, but instead as an adult and from PBS (Public Broadcasting Service).
Two weekends ago my daughter and I saw the movie, Hidden Figures, along with a number of other teenagers, parents, and sorority sisters who were all a part of
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and ASCEND, the mentoring program. The AKA’s arranged for us to have a theater to ourselves, and after the movie was shown there was a question and answer session from Mildred Johnson, sister-in-law of the last living survivor, Katherine Goble Johnson. Lonnie Johnson, husband to Mildred and brother of Katherine was also in attendance.
By now everyone in the country is familiar with the movie and the actors who portrayed the now famous ladies with the brilliant minds:
Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), Katherine Goble Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) helped send men to the moon and orbit the earth.
Now, I gotta admit that even though this was a feel good movie, I had an unsettling attitude that left me with many questions:
“Why am I just learning about these women? Why weren’t we taught about their astonishing accomplishments at the same time the nation was praising and celebrating astronauts?” I am 54 years old and I’m just now learning that three women were responsible for launching men into space? Anger.
“And whose methodical decision was it to purposely seal this part of history?” So, now I’m tapping my chin wondering who the hell I should be pissed with. I’m feeling some kind of way with the educational branch of government and whoever else had anything to do with omitting this story from the school curriculum and history books. Disappointment. Was this a systematic way of suppressing the next generations of Jacksons, Goble Johnsons and Vaughans because these women were black? Nah, the government wouldn’t purposely do that (written with all the sarcasm I can muster), would it? Had this story not been withheld maybe there wouldn’t be a desperate awareness and need for students to become interested in S.T.E.M
(Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), which brings me to my next paragraph….
How in the world was the entire country left in the dark about this part of history that was hidden in plain sight? How could the country celebrate John Glenn when he first orbited the earth without mentioning what it took to get him there? He didn’t just get there on his own. He didn’t calculate all that needed to be considered – including that if calculations were off, he could have burned to death in his space craft or left to drift in outer space for all eternity. And Neil Armstrong may not have even landed and left his foot prints on the moon – had it not been for a few good women.
Only one 98 year old survivor remains. Anger, disappointment – and now sadness.
It was announced this past weekend that Eugene Cernan, last astronaut to land on the moon in 1972, had passed away.
John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit the earth, died in 2016 – the entire country heard of his triumphs and death.
Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to walk on the moon died in 2012. The nation celebrated his historic accomplishment and then his death. As perpetually reported by Walter Cronkite who verbally wondered, “what there is to add to that.” Oh, there was a lot more to add, Mr. Cronkite 〈me whispering〉 but it was one of the country’s best kept secrets.
I’m not going through each person who was heralded and praised for going into space because with each one, I’d get a little more pissed – color me what you will, but they’ve had their lion’s share of praise and respect. I can’t help but wonder if it was ever nationally announced when Mary Jackson passed in 2005 at the age of 83 or
Dorothy Vaughan in 2008 at the age of 98. I knew nothing about either. How ’bout you – did you know?
I am still softly angry, but at the same time so very proud of those incredibly talented women. When a question was asked about why this movie is just coming out, the answer was partly because they were women who went to work, did their jobs and weren’t looking for any recognition – women like any other woman who goes to work to support their families. I get it. It’s no big deal for me to do it; however, my job is in no way comparable to what theirs was. I don’t even like basic math! And yet these women were known as human computers! Can you even imagine being smarter or quicker than a computer – it’s almost unimaginable to a layman like myself – but they were, and according to Mrs. Goble Johnson’s sister in law, she is still mentally sharp at 98 years old. A feel good moment.
So, from this point forward, whenever I witness anything that has to do with aeronautics, astronautics, space or a space craft whether it be in a movie or on live T.V., I will proudly and forever know that three young women with exceptional minds had everything to do with it launching into space.
Thank you Mary Jackson (aerospace engineer).
Thank you Katherine Goble Johnson (physicist and mathematician).
Thank you Dorothy Vaughan (mathematician).
And thank you to the group of lesser known women who worked with the aforementioned, but are still as valuable.
So, I say shame on anyone who denied these women their due praises, accolades, awards, odes, interviews, and most important an acknowledged place in history.
Shame on NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
And shame, too, on the United States of America.
This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed.
Thank you for readin’ my writin’.