Katherine Johnson was an American heroine. During most of her lifetime she was an unsung hero, her name unknown to all but a few engineers and mathematicians. As Amazon said, “In 2015, at the age of 97, Katherine Johnson became a global celebrity. President Barack Obama awarded her the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom—the nation’s highest civilian honor—for her pioneering work as a mathematician on NASA’s first flights into space. Her contributions to America’s space program were celebrated in a blockbuster and Academy-award nominated movie.”
With the help of two of her daughters, Katherine Johnson has posthumously released released an autobiography. It’s called My Remarkable Journey: A Memoir, by Katherine Johnson with Joylette Hylick and Katherine Moore.
In the introduction to the book, Dr. Yvonne Cagle asks “Why didn’t I know about her before 1997? Why didn’t all little girls know about her, especially little girls of color?” Dr. Cagle was disappointed not to have had a role model who matched her in gender and ethnicity. As a juvenile WASP who was enthralled by the space program, I would have been delighted to learn about Katherine Johnson in the 60’s and 70’s. I was more than a little upset by my ignorance when Hidden Figures came out that I had never heard of such an exceptional woman before. As far as my grade school teachers were concerned, Harriet Tubman and Wilma Rudolph were the only African-American women worthy of being in the classroom. I eventually learned about Phillis Wheatley and Pauli Murray, but not until 2016 did I learn about Katherine Johnson.
“How could I have imagined,” wrote Johnson, in the introduction to her autobiography My Remarkable Journey, “that from ages 97 to 101 I would be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (with a kiss from my favorite president); appear onstage at the Oscars; receive thirteen honorary doctorate degrees, including one from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa; have four major buildings named in my honor, including a second NASA facility…” More has been named for her since her death: an elementary school in Washington, a middle school in Virginia, a spacecraft. It seems safe to predict in centuries to come Katherine Johnson will remain a popular name for ships that travel to the final frontier.
If you are looking for something new for your summer reading list, My Remarkable Journey: A Memoir is available on Kindle, in audiobook, and in hardcover. Take your children to the library this summer. Most public libraries have summer reading programs with prizes for children. Look for this memoir while you’re there.
Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as short stories in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, “Supernatural Colorado”, “Barbarian Crowns”, “Cat Tails””Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions, Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.