Author, Margot Lee Shetterly opens up the lives of Mary Winston Jackson and Katherine Goble Johnson, in Chapters 9-18 of her extraordinary book, "Hidden Figures." Reading and learning about the likes of Ms. Jackson and Ms. Johnson in conjunction with Ms. Vaughn, is much like the learning that you, my fellow Book Club Members, have given to me over the past five years. Your endearing, selfless, and courageous lives will remain very much a part of the history of our grand nation and in some cases, our world!
To My Book Club Colleagues at AFRH and My Dear Friends...
When I think of each one of you, I remind myself of those intrinsic and wonderful qualities that you all have in common-patience, understanding, and generosity of spirit. At this unfortunate time in our world, oh, how you could teach so many so very much! I for one miss this learning every Wednesday, at our weekly Book Club Meetings...
For now, I am on to sharing with you my thoughts on Chapter's 9-18, of our current read, "Hidden Figures."
Author, Margot Lee Shetterly introduces Mary Winston Jackson with the same deliberate and profound qualities as she introduced Dorothy Vaughn. Mary graduated in 1938 with highest honors from Phenix High School. She followed the family tradition of enrolling in Hampton Institute, which had graduated her father, Frank Winston, her mother, Ella Scott Winston, and several of her ten older siblings. Mary Winston had a strong "analytical bent" and she completed two rigorous majors, in mathematics and physical science.
Mary Winston's family motto was "sharing and caring," and even in a community of active citizens, the Winstons distinguished themselves with their tireless service, religious devotion, and humanitarianism. These personal qualities served Mary well throughout her entire life. Prior to her marriage to Alabama native Levi Jackson, in 1944, Mary taught mathematics at a Negro high school in Maryland, cared for her ailing father, became a secretary, and bookkeeper, and "social director" at the King Street USO on the campus of Hampton Institute. In 1946, Mary and Levi welcomed their son, Levi Jr. She doted on her son, and with a full calendar of child care, family commitments, and volunteer activities, her life was full.
When son, Levi Jr. turned four years of age, Mary Jackson filed an application with the Civil Service. However, with Mary's abilities, Uncle Sam decided she would be of better use as an NACA computer than as a military secretary. So, after three months at Fort Monroe, Mary accepted an offer to work for Dorothy Vaughn.
Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson became steadfast friends. Yet, in the early 50's Mary met Kazimierz Czarnecki, "Kaz" to his friends, an aeronautical engineer that changed Mary's life for years to follow. She accepted a position working alongside Czarnecki. This work experience led Mary Jackson to becoming a "lifer" at Langley Research Center. Author, Margot Lee Shetterly initially in the book, shared with her readers that she had the extraordinary experience of meeting with "Hidden Figure," Katherine Goble Johnson. At ninety-three years of age(at the time) with a memory sharper then her own, Katherine Goble Johnson recalled segregated buses, years of teaching and raising a family, and working out the trajectory for John Glen's spaceflight. Katherine, so much like Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson had been raised not just to command equal treatment for herself but also to extend it to others. These qualities served her well for all the days of her life. There is much to write about Katherine Goble Johnson; however, her true strength of character shone brightly when her beloved husband, James Francis Goble died on December 21,1956 from an inoperable brain tumor. Katherine and her three adolescent daughters said goodbye to the most important man in their lives. But Katherine would not yield to loss and chaos-she was indeed her father's daughter. Sharing her father's same intuitiveness and vision, Katherine drew strength from the knowledge that her husband's premature death was part of a way of things, however painful. As well, she learned from her father to see the hardships of life as a fate shared by everyone, and her good fortunes as unearned blessings. The "second act" of Katherine's life that began in January of 1957, is one for the world to take note of.
Literacy Pals, as we complete "Hidden Figures" in the coming week ahead, and prepare for our next book, "Nathaniel's Nutmeg," I welcome any words of wisdom that you feel so inclined to share.
ARMED FORCES RETIREMENT HOME VETERANS’ RESPONSES:
From Christine Baldwin (Librarian, AFRH): “I was constantly amazed at the strengths the women had. They went through so much more than caucasian American women! It's too bad we couldn't discuss this book in our group setting. We will show the movie once we resume opening up.”
From George Johnson (Radioman, US Navy-Retired): “A unique employment opportunity became available, it not only was available, it was available to Black Women with a background of education in mathematics. This was unique because of the climate of the time in racial relations and employment opportunities for Black citizens. This is a success story and I have to find the words to express this in a short synopsis.”