Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson

Hidden Figures

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About Her

Grew Up... in a small town in West Virginia. She excelled in math at a young age, and she was given a scholarship in sixth grade to attend a school for black children that actually went beyond the eighth grade. She went on to become the first black female student at West Virginia University Graduate School. 

Living... in Virginia with her three daughters and her mother.

Profession... working at NASA in the Langley Research Center. Employees are segregated by race and gender, so she works in the “colored group” with 19 women including her good friends Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson. They are considered human “computers,” responsible for calculating complex mathematical equations that are being used to prepare astronaut John Glenn for his mission to become the first American to orbit Earth. She analyzes the manometer levels for air displacement, friction, and velocity, and computes over ten thousand calculations by cosine, square root by hand.

Interests... spending the little free time she has with her friends and family. They go to church, have neighborhood barbecues, and play card games.

Relationship status... widowed. She misses her late husband more than anyone. 

Challenge... bureaucracy, prejudice, and egos. Given that Katherine is an expert in analytic geometry, NASA has been recruited to join a team of white men to figure out the math for the planned orbital launch that is only a few weeks away. Although Katherine is starting to break race and gender barriers at NASA, she is constantly reminded of her lower status. She can’t pour coffee from the office’s communal coffee pot because no one wants her to touch it. She is mistaken for the janitor. She must walk for half a mile to the “colored” restroom. She is prohibited from attending Pentagon briefings. And her male coworkers can’t handle the fact that a woman is smarter than they are. Katherine knows it’s important to keep on fighting, but she wonders if it’s really going to make a difference. As she says, “It’s like shooting a sawed-off shotgun from a thousand feet and getting that one BB through a hole so tiny, you can’t even see it.”

Personality... intelligent, humble, and hardworking. Katherine is extremely modest even though she has a lot to be arrogant about.

Katherine Johnson's popularity ranking on CharacTour is #5364 out of 5,600+ characters. See our top-ranked characters and read their profiles.

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