She is hidden no more.
Katherine Johnson, the genius mathematician who helped put this nation’s first men into space and was the inspiration behind the 2016 Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures, has died. She was 101.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed her death on Monday (Feb 24) with the following tweet:
“Our @NASA family is sad to learn the news that Katherine Johnson passed away this morning at 101 years old. She was an American hero and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten.”
The details behind Johnson’s death are unknown, but what we do know is that she was an American hero who thanks to Margot Lee Shetterly’s nonfiction book “Hidden Figures” and the film of the same name, her remarkable story of rising up against Jim Crow and becoming a major force in the space race is one that didn’t get erased or overlooked in history.
Born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia to Joylette and Joshua Coleman, a teacher and a lumberman, it was clear early on in her life that she was beyond gifted in math. Graduating high school at the age of 14, she went on to HBCU West Virginia State and finished in 1937 with degrees in mathematics and French. She began teaching, got married in 1939 and enrolled in graduate school at West Virginia University, the first Black female student at that time to enroll. Soon after, she got pregnant and left grad school to focus on her family.
Yet, her love for math never died.
From 1953-1986, she worked for NASA in many forms including NASA’s predecessor and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. As we many of know, “Johnson was pivotal in calculating trajectories for multiple NASA space missions, including one for the first human spaceflight by an American, Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 mission. She also calculated trajectories for a mission to orbit the earth, carried out by John Glenn’s Friendship 7,” News One noted.
Johnson helped pioneer what is the future of sistas’ at NASA to this very day.
According to the New York Times, In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, proclaiming, “Katherine G. Johnson refused to be limited by society’s expectations of her gender and race while expanding the boundaries of humanity’s reach.” Also, in 2017, NASA dedicated a building in her honor, the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility, at its Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
In the end, when looking at her work, despite how revolutionary and pioneering it was, Johnson was always humble, the Times reported.
“NASA was a very professional organization,” Mrs. Johnson told The Observer of Fayetteville, N.C., in 2010. “They didn’t have time to be concerned about what color I was.”
“I don’t have a feeling of inferiority…Never had. I’m as good as anybody, but no better.”
Of news of her death, many took to social media to pay their condolences and honor this American icon. Rest in Power Katherine. You will be missed: