Black Girl Magic History: 8 Facts You Should Know About The Real ‘Hidden Figures’
Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson/Courtesy of NASA

Three Oscar nominations, one SAG Award for best cast in a motion picture, two weeks on top of the box office, and over $80 million in gross ticket sales are just a few of the numbers that tell the story of Hidden Figures’ remarkable success.

If you’ve seen the film, then you’ve already felt the impact of knowing Black women were directly responsible for putting the first American astronauts into space. Hidden Figures leaves behind a bittersweet taste: a combination of pride for the achievements of these brilliant trailblazers and irritation that this chapter of history is left out of our textbooks. Hidden Figures only scratched the surface of these three women’s great achievements.

In keeping the legacy of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson alive, we rounded up some things that you need to know about the trailblazers and the work that quite literally catapulted humans into space.

Katherine Johnson Graduated From High School At Age 14

Ninety eight years young today, Johnson (below) showed exceptional brilliance at a young age. She completed eighth grade by age 10, graduated from West Virginia State High School by 14, and at 18, she earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and French while graduating summa cum laude.

Courtesy of NASA

Executive Orders Launched Dorothy Vaughan’s Career

At the height of World War II, President Roosevelt signed executive orders prohibiting racial discrimination in the National Defense Industry. Vaughan was among the first group of African-Americans to be hired as mathematicians and scientists, though Jim Crow laws still forced “colored” employees to work separate from their White counterparts.

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Mary Jackson Was A Girl Scout Leader For Over 20 Years

While juggling her engineering career, Jackson (below) stayed heavily involved in the community. She spent decades as a Girl Scout troop leader and is famed for helping youth at a Hampton, Virginia community center build their own wind tunnel.

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Courtesy of NASA

All Three Ladies Are AKAs

Dorothy Vaughan joined the Zeta Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha at Wilberforce University and Mary Jackson, who graduated from Hampton Institute, was also a member of the historic sorority. Katherine Johnson is still an active member of the West Virginia Lambda Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Katherine Johnson Was Awarded The Presidential Medal Of Freedom

In her lifetime, Johnson has received many awards, including multiple NASA Achievement Awards and Honorary degrees from SUNY Farmingdale. But in 2015, she received the highest civilian honor: the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama.

Dorothy Vaughan Became NASA’s First African-American Manager

At the height of Jim Crow, “colored” mathematicians were forced to work separately from their White coworkers. Despite these obstacles, Vaughan became the first Black supervisor of the NACA, NASA’s predecessor. And in 1958, when the NACA fully transitioned into NASA and segregation ended, she became the supervisor of both White and Black engineers.

Mary Jackson Quit Engineering To Work On Equal Rights

After 30 years as an engineer, Jackson was frustrated by her inability to break the glass ceiling. Never allowed to move into a supervisory position, she changed careers to help other women of color. She joined the Affirmative Action Program and Federal Women’s Program and was instrumental in the hiring and promotion of minorities and women at NASA.

NASA Had No White Savior

You’ve seen the clip in all the Hidden Figures trailers. Kevin Costner nobly destroys a “colored” women’s bathroom sign, effectively desegregating NASA. Only that never happened. In a recent interview with VICE News, director Theodore Melfi admitted the scene was created for the film. Katherine Johnson also mentions how she never ran back and forth between buildings the way the movie portrayed. She simply used the White women’s restroom, in direct defiance of Jim Crow.