Honoring Black History: Katherine Johnson paves way for generations of women

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LEWISBURG, WV (WVNS) — When Katherine Johnson was born on August 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, no one knew of her potential. As she grew up, her dad worked locally for The Greenbrier.

Quickly, her family learned she had a natural talent for math and a love for counting. Nora Venezky is the executive director of the Greenbrier County Historical Society.

“She grew up and started school here, but her dad worked really hard to send her away to better schooling and more education,” Venezky said. “They knew from a young age that she was very intelligent. She helped her older brother with his math homework.”

Venezky said Johnson used her mathematical talent to get an astronaut to orbit the earth and later assist with the moon landing.

“John Glenn wouldn’t have gone to space had she not manually checked the calculations,” Venezky said. “She helped with the moon landing, to do the math on that. So, really brilliant mind to help get people into space and do that kind of exploration. Especially as a black woman during that day in age too, she was breaking barriers and pushing boundaries in a big way.”

According to Johnson’s biography on NASA’s website, she worked as a human computer, a person hired to solve math problems. The site said she started to ask questions and wanted to learn more about her work and NASA, so she started attending meetings. She attended meetings as the only woman in the room and ended up leaving her job to work on different space projects.

“As a black women in a society that was segregated, women didn’t have as many rights as men, I think it’s important to remember our history,” Venezky said.

One step for man, but breaking barriers for generations of women.

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