I’ll admit it. I was raised in a predominantly white community.
No, 100% white; however, my parents did their best to teach us about other races and cultures. We had people of all races come through our home over the course of my life; from exchange students to troubled teens to school kids coming out to visit a dairy farm. I have nieces and nephews from every culture, but Asian.
But that doesn’t mean I understand the issues people of color face every day of their life. However, we were taught to look at all people the same, just as Jesus does.
I have watched many a movie about civil rights. And I am always appalled at the treatment of others. It never made any sense to me. Moving to the south 40 years ago, opened my eyes again towards the attitudes of white folk. I am glad to say, that things have improved over the last 40 years.
But that doesn’t mean that racism is no more. I fear, it will always be around because people are not basically good. We are all sinners by birth. And until God changes us from the inside out, there will be hatred and racism, and bullying.
So my son suggested to me I needed to watch this movie, Hidden Figures. Now, I’m sure that most of us are familiar with Allen Shepherd, John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Shepherd. And when we watch movies about going to space, we see there is a room full of men with computers.
The truth is we seldom learn about the people doing the “real work”; all those behind the scenes. Not to diminish the bravery of our astronauts and the intelligence of the engineers, but there were many others involved in these ventures. And a lot of them were women.
I never knew or even thought about this fact. Going back to the 1950’s and early 60’s, those younger than myself tend to not realize that computers were a brand new thing. I have heard that we went to the moon with a computer no stronger than the first game console that came out while I was a kid.
So, Who Was Doing the Figures?
None, other than a room full of women of color; all jammed into a room in a building a half-mile away. They called these women “computers”. Watching the treatment of these women brings tears to my eyes. The movie is expressly about three women who worked for NASA.
1. Katherine Goble Johnson who did the calculating for the room full of engineers; checking their work and such.
2. Mary Jackson – an engineer who fought the system to even get her engineering degree completed because the courses needed were not offered in “colored” schools.
3. Dorothy Vaughn – Supervisor of the ‘computers’ and later computer lab supervisor.
Big Steps for Mankind
We are familiar with Neil Armstrong’s statement when he stepped on the moon, “One small step for man, One giant leap for mankind.” I’d like to suggest a few smaller steps I noticed in this movie. Steps made toward better treatment of people of color.
Spoiler Alert – Stop here if you don’t want tto see the movie first
Katherine was a child prodigy mathematician given the opportunity to acquire schooling and end up at NASA. She was the first woman (and women of color) requested to come over to the engineers’ group to check their math. The men in this room would not share the same coffee maker with her. She was required to wear a dress and heels, and only pearls, which she could not afford. Restrooms at that time were still designated for whites and “coloreds”. So in her dress and heels, she would ‘run’ to the west building (half-mile away) any time she needed to use the restroom.
When asked where she disappeared to every day, she gave a blunt answer about all that she was dealing with because of the color of her skin. In the Movie, Al Harrison is a composite of three men. But as the script went Mr. Harrison removed the “colored” coffee pot. and took everyone down to the restrooms and pulled down the designating signs.
“From now on, here at NASA, we all pee the same color.”
He may not have been that concerned about civil rights but more about efficiency and beating the Russians into space. But all the same, this was a “step for equal rights”.
Mary Jackson was waiting to be promoted to engineer. But no one told her that extra required courses had been added to the requirements. Unfortunately, these courses were not offered at the black colleges. They did offer them as a night class at the local high school… a segregated high school. Mary would not be stopped she went al the way to court to get permission to take her classes.
She did her homework, too; learning all about the judge she was to stand before. She celebrated all the firsts that he had accomplished, then shared how she was the first in her family to go to college. But now, her dream to graduate was being thwarted because she was not allowed in the building where the course was taught.
“only the night courses”, the judge allowed.
But this was a brave and huge step toward equality.
Dorothy Vaughn supervised all the women in the room of “computers”. She had been suprervising them for over a year without a promotion or increase of pay. She kept asking about this until she learned that the new IBM was arriving. Funny, but all those male engineers could not figure out how to run the thing. She stayed after hours reading the manuals until she had the thing running. Then she taught all her lady computers how to program the IBM.
What a surprise one day when they came in to ask her why she was in the computer room. She was running numbers and they were right! After the orbit of the moon, the NASA computer women were “no longer needed”, but Dorothy was ready to step into the job of computer supervisor. When they asked her to take the job, she would not leave her girls behind. Every one of them went with her to the computer room.
Another step for Women of Color!
There was one more great statement coming from John Glenn as he prepared for his flight around the earth that I loved,
“Let’s get the girl to check the numbers”
I celebrate that we have made great strides against racism and for equality over the past 60 years; from opportunities in education to sports and all the way to the White House. We can be proud of the strides we have made, but let’s not stop here. Let’s find our way to equality for all.
We can all find small ways to make a big difference for people of color.
- tear down a sign
- correct microaggressions
- make friendships
- stand up for inequality when you see it
- employee a person of color
- support businesses owned by POCs
Rent the movie or Buy the book