Katherine Johnson’s memoirs share the life of NASA’s “hidden person”

My amazing journey
Katherine Johnson and Joylet Hyrick, Katherine Moore
Amistad, $ 25.99

Katherine Johnson was a best-selling book around 2016 Hollywood movie Hidden person He emphasized her role as a NASA mathematician in the Space Race (SN: 1/21/17, p. 28). These works demonstrated Johnson’s ability to perform high-stakes calculations to send astronauts into space while enduring racism and sexism from colleagues. But calculating NASA numbers is only part of Johnson’s story.her Afterlife biography, My amazing journey, Tell the rest (SN: 2/24/20).

Johnson’s memoirs, co-authored with two of his three daughters, spend a surprisingly short amount of time explaining her work at NASA. Instead, the book focuses on Johnson’s personal life. And it includes a lot of experience revealing insights into the turbulent racial relations of the United States in the 20th century.

Her explanation begins with her childhood in a small town in West Virginia. Still, Johnson’s thirst for knowledge was clear. She sneaked out to take her older siblings to school, asked questions to her parents and teachers, and counted everything she saw. While at West Virginia State University, Johnson decided to become a mathematician.

Readers will quickly understand the serious obstacles faced by educated blacks like Johnson. When she graduated in 1937 with the best GPA in college history at the age of 18, Johnson had few job opportunities. Her only job was an educational gig in a black elementary school.

Johnson uses her own educational and work experience as a window to broader issues. She often pivots from her story to explain the racial struggle of her teachers and the history of the black schools she attended or served. These aides slow down the story, but reveal something deeper: Johnson’s immense pride in black education and her gratitude to the black educator who was her role model.

Later chapters continue to zoom out from Johnson’s own experience to historic events. She explains her concerns about allowing her daughters to participate in school integration. “Once I saw what those Negro teenagers experienced in Little Rock, I couldn’t see it,” she wrote about the white mob violence faced by a black student integrating into a white school in Arkansas. I am. She also advised her not to participate in the civil rights movement because she was afraid that she would be injured or arrested. (They protested anyway.)

However, the historical aspects of Johnson can seem purely descriptive. Readers may want the memoirs to directly provide Johnson’s unique perspective on some issues. For example, she opposes the taxpayer’s dollar spent on the Space Race rather than poverty alleviation, by Rev. Ralph Abernathy (successor to Martin Luther King, Jr. as chairman of the Southern Christian Guidance Council). Describes the protest led by. However, Johnson does not share her own reaction to this event.

It’s also clear that Johnson is reluctant to brag about himself. She touts the careers of other skilled black scientists and astronauts, but she writes about her own work: [my] job. “It may seem like false humility, but it’s true that it came from a woman who didn’t invite her daughter to a retirement lunch at NASA, as she wrote in the book. “I didn’t want to make a fuss.”

Perhaps more striking than Johnson’s unwavering humility is that she raised her head and faced racism and discrimination. When she moved south for her first job, her mother warned her about the racism she would face: “Remember, you will go to Virginia. But Johnson said, “Well, tell them I’m coming!” And when a white friend told Johnson that his minister banned black guests at his wedding, she wrote, “I just shrugged it.” “I didn’t mean to allow his pastor’s negative view to change my opinion on a lovely couple.”

These examples of relentless determination in the face of adversity show what remains for the reader and makes Johnson’s journey truly remarkable. Yes, her mathematical genius was inspiring. Equally exciting was her grit.

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