Bill Recognizing ‘Hidden Figures’ Headed to the White House to be Signed Into Law - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise magazine Fall 2019 issue

A bipartisan bill that will award Congressional Gold Medals to NASA’s ‘Hidden Figures‘ has passed through Congress and is heading to the White House to be signed into law.

The Congressional Gold Medals will be given to Katherine Johnson and Dr. Christine Darden and the posthumously award Congressional Gold Medals to Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. 

The lives and careers of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden were featured in the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly. That book was adapted into the 2016 film Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures tells the incredible untold story of Katherine Jonson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson.– the brilliant African-American women who worked at NASA and served as the brains behind the launch into orbit of astronaut John Glenn, a stunning achievement that turned around the Space Race. The visionary trio crossed all gender and racial line and inspired generations.

The bill was introduced by U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), along with U.S. Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Frank Lucas (R- OK),

“Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Dr. Christine Darden made monumental contributions to science and our nation,” said Senator Harris in a statement. “The groundbreaking accomplishments of these four women, and all of the women who contributed to the success of NASA helped us win the space race but remained in the dark far too long. I am proud our bill to honor these remarkable women has passed Congress. These pioneers remain a beacon for Black women across the country, both young and old.”

The Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act will honor:

  • Katherine Johnson, who calculated trajectories for multiple NASA space missions including the first human spaceflight by an American, Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 mission. She also calculated trajectories for John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission to orbit the earth. During her time at NASA, she became the first woman recognized as an author of a report from the Flight Research Division. 
  • Dorothy Vaughan, who led the West Area Computing unit for nine years, as the first African American supervisor at National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became NASA. She later became an expert programmer in FORTRAN as a part of NASA’s Analysis and Computation Division.
  • Mary Jackson, who petitioned the City of Hampton to allow her to take graduate-level courses in math and physics at night at the all-white Hampton High School in order to become an engineer at NASA. She was the first female African-American engineer at the agency. Later in her career, she worked to improve the prospects of NASA’s female mathematicians, engineers, and scientists as Langley’s Federal Women’s Program Manager. 
  • Dr. Christine Darden, who became an engineer at NASA 16 years after Mary Jackson. She worked to revolutionize aeronautic design, wrote over 50 articles on aeronautics design, and became the first African-American person of any gender to be promoted into the Senior Executive Service at Langley. 

Our hat is off to the Hidden Figures as they continue to make history.