Uncovering African American
Contributions to Science
One of the great challenges of the times we live in is to determine what is true and then
live that truth for yourself. Take the movie, Hidden Figures, for example. I went to see it
twice and at the ending, both times the audience clapped loudly. This is one of the few
movies, out of Hollywood, that is based on historical fact, features African American
women and is uplifting and entertaining. If you want to get an immediate dose of
inspiration, go and watch Hidden Figures, the incredible untold story of Katherine G.
Johnson (played by actress Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (played by actress
Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (played my actress/singer Janelle Monáe) —
brilliant African-American women working at the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA), who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations
in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit. This stunning achievement did
much to restore the nation's confidence in the space program, turned around the space
race to the moon in America’s favor, and impressed the world with America’s
achievement in outer space. All of this happened in 1968 when most Black people were
still being denied equal rights and justice.
1968 could be considered the height of the Civil Rights Movement towards equality for African Americans, especially after the assassination of
the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which galvanized the nation being fair in its treatment of African Americans. I was alive in 1968, so I
can remembered the hatred in people’s eyes even when they looked at a little African American child. What would it have meant to all of us
alive at that time to know that Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson were responsible for taking the United States to the moon
and back! How much it would have inspired little girls back then to know that there were Black women scientists, mathematicians and
computer experts. Talk about living Black History, this is exactly what historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson wanted revealed about the contributions
of African Americans in the United States. Instead, it was a kept secret known only to a few.
2017 is the year that these women’s story was fully unfolded on the big screen, which, in turn, will cause their story to be known around the
world. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — when it comes to bad news about African Americans, we get it quickly, persistently and repeated
over and over again. Good news, well that takes too long to reach us. I am happy that one of the three women, Katherine Johnson, is still alive
to be thanked. The movie, Hidden Figures, left me wondering what other stories of valiant African Americans and their contributions have yet to
I haven’t gone to the movies to see, Moonlight, which won best picture at the Academy Awards. This movie, I’ve read, is a fictionalized account
of an African American boy growing into manhood. I do realize that by honoring Katherine Johnson, many people mistakenly thought the movie,
Hidden Figures, had received an award. Neither Hidden Figures nor Fences with the great Denzel Washington, based on August Wilson’s play,
won anything from the Academy.
That my friends, is a great travesty of justice and shortsighted about what best serves to inspire African American people. The women in Hidden
Figures were real. The characters in Fences were first in a play, then a movie. The truth is that both of them deserved to be recognized and
honored too. For little girls everywhere, Hidden Figures gives them a glimpse into the uncharted academic waters that these three African
American women in 1968 successfully navigated.