WJCC schools mark Black History Month with ‘Hidden Figures’

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Katherine Johnson, NASA pioneer
Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who played a key role in the space program, grew up fascinated by numbers, according to her biography on NASA’s website. (Courtesy NASA)

The real-life scientists of “Hidden Figures” have gotten the Hollywood treatment. Now they’re getting the spotlight for Black History Month in the Historic Triangle.

“Hidden Figures” tells the story of three pioneering African Americans who worked at Hampton’s Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory: Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson, a Hampton native. 

As part of a human-computer pool, the women processed data from the wind tunnel and flight tests. But segregation laws mandated keeping the African American employees, known as “West Area Computers,” separate from whites who did the same work.

Now, students in Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools are turning to the NASA scientists’ story for Black History Month.

Lois S. Hornsby Middle School will have a “Hidden Figures” display case and a “Hidden Figures” book club.

Seventh graders at Toano Middle School will take a field trip to see “Hidden Figures.”

Mary Jackson at Langley
Mary Jackson, seen in the front row on the far right, was a so called “human computer” during the early days of the space program. (Courtesy NASA Langley Research Center)

Lafayette High School will have a private showing of “Hidden Figures,” tentatively set for Feb. 10.

Beyond “Hidden Figures,” a range of historic struggles and achievements will be showcased. Here are a few examples:

Students at Warhill High School will watch “Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot,” a documentary by Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The film depicts the struggle for voting rights in Alabama in the 1960s.

Rawls Byrd Elementary School is collaborating with Berkeley Middle School for a buddy reading project, centered on African American literature. The event is timed for World Read Aloud Day on Feb. 16.

And Fourth grade students at Clara Byrd Baker Elementary School will research Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision that integrated public schools. 

For more information about Black History Month in WJCC schools, click here