Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race
Illustrated by Laura Freeman, Written by Margot Lee Shetterly

Publisher’s Summary:
Before John Glenn orbited Earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as ‘human computers’ used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation.

Primary Source Pairing:
Dorothy Johnson Vaughan, Mary Winston Jackson, Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, and Dr. Christine Mann Darden are good at math, really good. Their intellect and critical thinking contributed greatly to our space program, space research, computer programming, and more.  These four women persevered to have a place at the table in a white, male-dominated profession. For this primary source pairing, invite students to study a photograph taken in the 1950s of Mary Jackson and other NASA human computers. Abundant primary source resources are available from this time in history. Incorporate these resources as the instructional setting allows. The illustrations in the book are superb. In lieu of primary source analysis, do a picture walk through the book and notice all the details included by illustrator Laura Freeman, Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award winner. My favorite detail is the celestial earrings worn by the women.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • What’s happening in the image?
  • What people and objects are shown?
  • How are they arranged?
  • What is the physical setting?
  • Make a connection to what you see in this image with something you read in the book Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race.

Book Cover and Summary: Follett
“NASA human computers – Mary Jackson on far right – Pressure Tunnel staff taken in 1950s” photograph: Wikimedia Commons