The Colored Computers: African-American Women Who Helped America Win the Space Race
by Raveen Johnson
Our people have literally made their mark in every significant industry that has positively enhanced this country in a major way. Though the mainstream media is not always willing to go into just how deep our history is, they cannot deny that the Black community has made contributions that people are still silently thanking it for.
One contribution in particular was one made by a group of women who working at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the Civil Rights era. They were known as the “colored computers” because their efforts aided NASA with the computing power it needed to help America obtain its victory over the Soviet Union, among other things.
These women, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, Kathyrn Peddrew, Sue Wilder, Eunice Smith and Barbara Holley, were the African American mathematicians that made up a huge portion of the country’s space work force. They were also in place during the Cold War and, without them, a plethora of America’s successes would not have come about.
Though their jobs were significant, the world barely knows of them. That is why author Margot Lee Shetterly has written a book entitled “Hidden Figures” which will tell the true story of these women through four personal experiences.
Shetterly revealed that she has been around African American scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and the like all of her life. It came to a point where she was under the impression that our people were the face of the science industry. Today, though, if we were to do a Google search on scientists, a majority of the results would harbor white men in lab coats.
That is not her reality, and it surely is not the reality of the group of women that helped America win the Space Race from 1955-1972. These women were skilled in what they did, but no one really knows about them. It is about time for that to change.
Shetterly’s book will not be published until next year, but there has also been talk about a possible screenplay in the works. I think that this is huge for our community. The more we know how great we are, the more we remind ourselves of what we are capable of. Bring out the facts!