Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughn.

If you’ve either seen or heard of the Academy Award nominated film Hidden Figures, you know these three names. These women, portrayed by Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer, overcame all odds against them in the 1960s, but I’m sure you did not know who they were until now.

I finally saw the groundbreaking film last week, and as empowered as I was, I really could not believe that this was the first time I had ever heard the powerful story of these three women.

It made me think about how many other “hidden figures” there might be that I won’t know if I don’t seek the information myself.

Some people, who are not black – including Stacy Dash; have questioned the need for a Black History Month. They have wondered why a whole month – the shortest month – is necessary to acknowledge all that African Americans have contributed to major advances in American society. Films like Hidden Figures are a prime example of the black history neglected and slid under the rug of a white America. I knew we went to the moon in 1969, and I knew who went to the moon – of course because John Glenn is a white man; but why didn’t I know who helped him get there?

Jackson, Johnson and Vaughn paved the way for African Americans in STEM today. Here are a few of the other black women of NASA you need to know who broke ground in their respective fields during the “Hidden Figures” era.

Miriam Daniel Mann – Mann learned about job opportunities at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA, NASA’s predecessor, in 1943. She had earned a chemistry degree with a minor in mathematics from Talladega College, and was more than qualified for the “human computer” position, which was among the most demanding jobs for women of her era.

She did not just work as a human computer for NACA, but also worked as a resistor for the civil right’s movement. She  removed the “Colored” sign from a table in the back of the cafeteria and accepted her white female boss’s invitation to visit her apartment, which was considered crossing lines of both professional rank and race.

Mann, The Feminist Wire

Katherine Peddrew – Peddrew applied for a position in NACA’s chemistry division after reading a job listing in a NACA bulletin. Although hired,  when administrators learned she was black, they rescinded the offer for the chemistry job, transferring her to the computing division instead, which had a section specifically for the black female “human computers.” Over the course of her NASA career, Peddrew worked in both aeronautics and aerospace, studying balance in the Instrument Research Division.


Christine Darden – Fully aware that she was capable of holding a professional position at NASA, she confronted her supervisor and was transferred to an engineering job in 1973. In this role, she worked on the science of sonic booms, making specific advances on sonic boom minimization and writing more than 50 scholarly articles on the subject. In 1983, Darden earned a doctorate degree and by 1989 was appointed to the first of a number of management and leadership roles at NASA.

Darden, cbcradio

Annie Easley –  joined NASA in 1955 and  worked at the agency for 34 years, shared the same self-awareness and confidence as Darden, as well as the same tenacity for ensuring her rights were respected. In the 1960s, Easley wrote the computer code used for the Centaur rocket stage.  NASA called her the “America’s workhorse in space.” Centaur has been used in more than 220 launches. Easley’s code was the basis for future codes that have been used in military, weather, and communications satellites.


I’m grateful to those who worked diligently to tell the stories of these women. As Henson said in her poignant Screen Actors Guild Awards speech, “they are hidden figures no more!”


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