Written by Lindsay Dorais

Illustration redesigned by Devin Thorpe

Remembering Katherine G. Johnson, an American Hero

Sad News Folks

Katherine G. Johnson, an American hero, and legendary mathematician has died. She was born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia on August 26, 1918, and came from humble beginnings, the daughter of a teacher and a farmer. Her love of numbers started early counting almost everything, right down to the number of plates when she washed the dishes.

While most people associate her with her career at NASA, plotting trajectories for the earliest space missions and easing astronauts’ minds by double-checking computer computations to make sure they were correct, she was a trailblazer long before. Before her career in NASA, she had taught in Marion, Virginia, married and started a family, and became the first black woman to be offered admission to the graduate program at West Virginia University after they quietly integrated in 1939.

She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 and portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in the critically acclaimed film Hidden Figures.

She passed away in a retirement home on February 24th at the age of 101. She is survived by two daughters, six grandchildren, eleven great-grandchildren, and a grateful nation. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine posted the following tweet about her passing:

Our @NASA family is sad to learn the news that Katherine Johnson passed away this morning at 101 years old. She was an American hero and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten. https://t.co/UPOqo0sLfb pic.twitter.com/AgtxRnA89h

— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) February 24, 2020

Her Lasting Impression

In an unfortunate time in our history when many bright minds went unseen beneath the weight of racism and discrimination, Johnson carved a path in STEM for future generations while helping us win the space race. She inspired a generation of young women to reach for their dreams and to embrace their potential. A national treasure, she will be sorely missed.

What We’re Thinking About

In summation: gratitude. Not only was she an exceptional mathematician who helped this country make leaps and strides in space exploration and encouraged a generation, but she reminded us of a very important lesson: we are stronger together than we are apart.

Featured Header Image Source: NASA/Bill Ingalls

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