On November 24, 2015, President Barack Obama presented Katherine with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive. For her work in enhancing space flight, NASA awarded her the Silver Snoopy in 2016. The Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility was dedicated on May 5, 2016, at the Langley Research Center in Hampton. It officially opened on September 22, 2017. That same year, Katherine’s story was highlighted in the movie Hidden Figures, adapted from the book of the same name released a year earlier.
Katherine was a woman of facts, figures, science, and truth. She refused to see herself as a victim. However, we live in a post-modern time where none of this seems to matter anymore. Katherine taught her daughters her principles and they all became mathematicians and teachers. She’s teaching the same thing to her grandchildren. Unfortunately most other students today are being taught that the only truth is their own truth. Even worse, today's schools teach students that mathematics is racist, perpetrated by white privilege.
Liberty, this approach is incredibly dangerous as it is designed specifically to destroy the Western culture. The Bible warns us of this behavior.
“The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” Genesis 6:5
This led to the Great Flood and the annihilation of all life on Earth except who God chose to save on the Ark. (see )
“But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward.” Jeremiah 7:24
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices. Psalm 81:12
“Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” Romans 1:28-29
I don’t have any idea what Katherine thinks of Black Lives Matter, Democrats movement towards socialism, or the country’s constant focus on division by race, gender, sexuality, and politics. What I do know, from her own words, is that she ignored them herself. She didn’t cry white privilege. Instead she proved she deserved to be there.
Liberty, the only way this country will survive is if citizens wake up and follow Katherine’s example. We all have a job to do, we need to put our heads down and just do it. By doing this, Katherine broke down barriers for African-Americans and women at schools, businesses, government, and in society. She, along with others like Madam C.J. Walker, Charlotte E. Ray, Benjamin Davis Sr. & Jr., Dr. Mildred Fay Jefferson, Lucy Hobbs Taylor, and Robert Fox, didn’t do it through violence, protests, or through demands. (see , , , , , , and ) They did it by showcasing the content of their character, not the color of their skin. A lesson we can all learn.
That’s my 2 cents.
P.S. Katherine passed away on February 24, 2020, in Newport New, Virginia, at the age of 101.
August 26, 2018
As Katherine walked to school, she counted the houses she passed. Fifteen white, five blue, ten red brick and three yellow. She was fascinated with numbers. They didn’t just swirl in her head, they danced. She had a gift and everyone knew it. Yet no one dreamt it would take her to the moon.
Katherine Coleman was born August 26, 1918, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The world was at war while Woodrow Wilson successfully irradiated all the racial progress America had made during Reconstruction. (see ) Until the time of her birth, blacks and whites worked together in the same offices. However, Wilson segregated government institutions, claiming it was for the good of the black race. (see ) So, as an African-American and a woman, the odds were stacked against her from the start, but Katherine didn’t mind as numbers were good to her. Katherine would eventually break down those barriers.
The youngest of four children, Katherine soon surpassed her older brother as she skipped multiple grade levels in elementary school. At the time, the county she lived in did not provide education for blacks past eight grade. Therefore, Katherine’s parents arranged to live in Institute, West Virginia, 120 miles away, during the school year. At age 10, Katherine began high school at West Virginia State High School, located on the campus of the black college West Virginia State College (WVSC, now University). She graduated in 1932 at age 14.
Enrolling in WVSC on a full scholarship, Katherine was mentored by several professors who recognized her talent with numbers and made sure to provide her with the classes and information she needed. According to Katherine, Professor William Waldron Schieffeline Claytor, Ph.D. was extremely helpful to her. He even offered an analytic geometry course specifically for Katherine, as he knew she would need it for her career.
“Many professors tell you that you'd be good at this or that, but they don't always help you with that career path. Professor Claytor made sure I was prepared to be a research mathematician. … Claytor was a young professor himself, and he would walk into the room, put his hand in his pocket, and take some chalk out, and continue yesterday’s lesson. But sometimes I could see that others in the class did not understand what he was teaching. So I would ask questions to help them. He'd tell me that I should know the answer, and I finally had to tell him that I did know the answer, but the other students did not. I could tell.”
In 1937, Katherine graduated from WVSC with a B.S. summa cum laude, majoring in both mathematics and French. She was only 18. However, job opportunities for black women at the time were extremely limited. Therefore, she accepted a teaching position in Virginia. After marrying James Goble in 1939, whom she met while at WVSC, she left teaching to enroll in a graduate math program at West Virginia University. Following a United States Supreme Court ruling, states were required to offer integrated or equal higher education for black students. Katherine was one of three African-Americans, but the first female, to integrate the University. Yet after becoming pregnant, she left the graduate program, instead choosing to focus on her family.
Over the next several years, Katherine and James had three little girls, Constance, Joylette, and Katherine. In 1952, while visiting relatives, Katherine was told that the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, replaced by NASA in 1958) was looking for mathematicians. As computers were just beginning to be developed, such organizations used people to do the necessary calculations for their work. Since men were primarily hired for engineering positions, women filled the calculating positions. During World War II, those jobs starting opening up to African-American women as well. Katherine applied and was offered a job at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in the National Visionary Leadership Project.
As part of a pool that performed calculations, Katherine received a temporary assignment with an all male flight research team. The team quickly discovered her vast knowledge of analytic geometry and never returned her to the pool. While both racial and gender barriers existed, Katherine chose to ignore them, instead displaying the content of her character with her skills with a slide rule and a pencil.
Once NASA began, the Wilson racial segregation requirements ended in the institute. However, women of both races continued to experience discrimination. Despite women contributing just as much as the men, their attendance in briefings was denied. That was until Katherine arrived.
“These were such intelligent men, they knew so much, and I always loved intelligence, and so I’d ask what had gone on in the briefings - I'd listen and listen and ask questions. Then, of course, I'd ask why I couldn't go myself, and eventually they just got tired of answering all my questions and just let me in to the briefings.”
The next few years brought several changes for Katherine. James succumbed to an inoperable brain tumor in 1956, leaving her to raise the girls alone. Fortunately, she met James A. Johnson, a Korean War veteran, former Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, and seven years her junior, at the Carver Presbyterian Church where she sang in the choir for 50 years. They married in 1959. On the work front, NACA dissolved the black computing pool in 1958 as NASA began to replace it with digital computers. Katherine recalled the move to NASA:
“We needed to be assertive as women in those days – assertive and aggressive – and the degree to which we had to be that way depended on where you were. I had to be. In the early days of NASA women were not allowed to put their names on the reports – no woman in my division had had her name on a report. I was working with Ted Skopinski and he wanted to leave and go to Houston ... but Henry Pearson, our supervisor – he was not a fan of women – kept pushing him to finish the report we were working on. Finally, Ted told him, 'Katherine should finish the report, she's done most of the work anyway.' So Ted left Pearson with no choice; I finished the report and my name went on it, and that was the first time a woman in our division had her name on something.”
As space exploration began to get off the ground, Katherine was instrumental in performing the proper calculations that not only got the first American, Alan Shepard, into space on May 5, 1961, she got him home. She had become so well respected that as John Glenn prepared to orbit the earth for the first time on February 20, 1962, he personally asked that Katherine review the computer’s calculations for accuracy. Katherine’s work successfully landed Apollo 11 on the moon before returning it safely to Earth. (see )
While Katherine’s work was significant in several groundbreaking flight’s in America’s space program, it was never more critical than for Apollo 13. Katherine did not just perform all the calculations for these historical flights, she always prepared backup plans as well. When Apollo 13 went off course, Katherine's one-star observation system, charts and procedures guided the astronauts in accurately determining their location, allowing a safe path home to be formulated. Johnson recalled the event in 2010, stating, “Everybody was concerned about them getting there. We were concerned about them getting back.”
Katherine continued to work with NASA, helping start the Space Shuttle program, until her retirement in 1986. This spirited, energetic, inspirational woman turns 100 today and still lives with James in Hampton, Virginia.
BREAKING ALL BARRIERS