Katherine Johnson, Hidden Figure No More

Mathematician Katherine Johnson (1918-1920) was born in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, which has a population of approximately 2,400 residents. Her home is not open to the public, but West Virginia has preserved her memory in various ways throughout the state, including a sculpture at a major university, a library exhibit, and the naming of a NASA educational building.

At West Virginia State University in Institute, where she graduated in 1937, a sculpture of her image was unveiled in 2018. In White Sulfur Springs, the public library offers occasional exhibits of her work. And, perhaps most notably, NASA’s Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility in Fairmont was named after her in 2020. This facility is used for a wide range of educational science programs.

Writings

For most of her career, Ms. Johnson applied her natural genius as a mathematician to NASA programs and projects, but newer generations have learned of her through books and a biographical feature film entitled Hidden Figures (2016).  An excellent list of books connected to Katherine Johnson can be found here: https://www.amightygirl.com. The book she is best known for writing is her own auobiography, written for middle graders, Reaching for the Moon.

According to https://www.publishersweekly.com: “African-American research mathematician and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Johnson, of Hidden Figures fame, imbues this narrative of the first half of her life with her daily realities in the segregated South… Alternately warmly personal and coolly observant, Johnson is always clear in her explanations. Black-and-white photos illustrate this highly accessible memoir by a groundbreaking woman.”

The Hidden Figures story is available in its original form for an adult audience as well as in a Young Readers edition for middle grade students.

The Katherine Johnson stops are the second, fifth, and sixth on the West Virginia Author Adventures Trail, when traveled north-south.

Patricia Smart