Hidden Figures is a must-see movie for everyone. The film documents the true story of three brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that turned around the Space Race. The visionary trio ventured boldly across gender and race lines to help America and to inspire generations to dream big.
Crises prevented are easy to overlook. One of the interesting sub-plots in the movie is how Dorothy Vaughan (superbly played by Octavia Spencer) spotted a looming crisis in the form of an IBM mainframe that threatened to replace Dorothy and her colleagues who were literally human computers. The mainframe would likely cause all these women to lose their jobs. Rather than run from the threat, Vaughan had the foresight to get out ahead of it. She made herself and her team indispensible partners with the new technology. The crisis was prevented with NASA well served by the continuing contributions of these women.
The movie centers on Katherine Johnson from White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia. Despite the many odds she faced as a black girl growing up in the 1920s and 30s, with strong support from her family she succeeded in contributing her considerable mental faculties to the space race. From a very young age, she must have been amazingly smart, almost to the Einstein level.
According to various internet sources and the movie, Katherine went undergrad—apparently at a very young age—to West Virginia State College (now University). That is one of the historically black colleges. It is very close to where my wife grew up near Charleston. Two of my brothers-in-law graduated from there. Katherine went on to get her masters from WVU, my alma mater.
Thank goodness Katherine got some chances—and successfully fought for more. Otherwise she could easily have ended up underemployed, perhaps cleaning rooms at the Greenbrier Hotel where her father worked. Certainly makes you think. Who is cleaning hotel rooms right now only because they never got the chance to contribute in larger ways?