The facilities might be separate, but as far as the West Computers were concerned, they would prove themselves equal or better, having internalized the Negro theorem of needing to be twice as good to get half as far. They wore their professional clothes like armor. They wielded their work like weapons, warding off the presumption of inferiority because they were Negro or female. They corrected each other’s work and policed their ranks like soldiers against tardiness, sloppy appearance, and the perception of loose morals. They warded off the negative stereotypes that haunted Negroes like shadows, using tough love to protect both the errant individual and the group from her failings.
This quote is from Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, recently made into a movie by 20th Century Fox, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe.
Hidden Figures tells the story of the talented African American mathematicians – “human computers” – who fought through segregation to play an important part in WWII building planes, and later playing a crucial role in the early days of NASA.
There were a lot of good quotes in this book, but this one was one of my favorites. It really gives you a sense of what the West Computers were up against. Even though they had everything going against them, they were able to prevail and provide inspiration to women for generations to come. The strength, bravery, and determination these women – Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden – is admirable and awe-inspiring.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!