Her example must live on
Though she lived an incredibly full 101 years, the death of Katherine Johnson on Feb. 24 came as a bit of a surprise. Giants like she was seem as though they will be with us forever.
And Johnson was, truly, a West Virginian and American giant. Despite all the challenges that came with being born a black female in Appalachia in 1918, she refused to be stopped. She was intelligent — particularly gifted in math and science — and had enough inner strength to know she was meant to do something with those gifts. What she did was become so important to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s missions that John Glenn refused to be launched into space until Johnson had double checked a computer’s calculations. He trusted her work completely.
Many Americans today know about Johnson because of the film “Hidden Figures,” but during her career with NASA, Johnson refused to stay hidden.
During an interview with a public television station in 2011, she said, “I just happened to be working with guys and when they had briefings, I asked permission to go. And they said, ‘Well, the girls don’t usually go.’ And I said, ‘Well, is there a law?’ They said, ‘No.’ So then my boss said, ‘Let her go.’ “
She persisted. She knew her worth and would not be brushed to the side. NASA eventually named its Computational Research Facility in honor of her.
In 2015, Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom — an honor she truly deserved.
“In her 33 years at NASA, Katherine was a pioneer who broke the barriers of race and gender, showing generations of young people that everyone can excel in math and science, and reach for the stars,” President Barack Obama said at the time.
Johnson is gone now, but the example she set — for all of us — must live on.
* Guest editorial from The News and Sentinel in Parkersburg, W.Va.