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The Brilliance & Genius of Katherine Johnson

Staff Writer Karissa Sweetland-Laube highlights the groundbreaking and influential role that Katherine Johnson played in both the world of STEM and the civil rights movement as we recognise Black History Month.

October, a month recognised for transforming leaves into vivid shades of crimson, Halloween festivities, and an arguably communal thirst for irresistible pumpkin spice flavoured beverages. However, the joyful transition into autumnal pride often overshadows a month, which for many marks a moment of opportunity for the appreciation and commemoration of Black excellence. A month rooted in the acknowledgment and celebration of the esteemed contributions of black innovation. Within which, some of the greatest pioneers of the STEM sphere are comprised. This article should provide an insight into the vital role Katherine Johnson played in the mathematical field and the links to Afro-American culture.

“I like to learn. That’s an art and a science.”

-Katherine Johnson

Achievements in Nasa

To comment on women in STEM and neglect the importance of Katherine Johnson would be an inadvertent oversight. The recently deceased, legend, Ms Johnson (1918-2020) , amongst many other notable feats, provided some of the crucial aeronautical mathematics.This was essential for the accomplishing of the first human spaceflight (1961) alongside Alan Shepard, Investigating John Glenn’s calculations for the first American orbital space mission (1962) and calculations involved in the historical Apollo 11 moon landing (1969). Accompanied by her prodigal calculations and passion for STEM, Katherine Johnson undeniably cemented herself in a historical hall of fame of revolutionists.

Johnson’s story illustrates that an ardent logic used with a resolute determination is an infallible algorithm for success. This fervent passion for a discipline engenders nothing but revolutionary accomplishments.

“I don’t have a feeling of inferiority. Never had. I’m as good as anybody, but no better.”

– Katherine Johnson ( NASA’s Statements on Johnson’s Medal of Freedom)

Social Impact for Black Heritage

It is for this reason that Katherine Johnson could be considered a symbol of hope and social metamorphosis. For people to be consistently constrained by relentless societal structures and systematic discrimination even in modern day- to think of the difficulties she faced throughout the mid to late 50s and 60s is overwhelming. However, even with the odds pitted against her she defied gender roles and racial prejudice. Katherine Johnson excelled, whilst embodying a metaphorical lighthouse which highlights the development of civil rights movements.

Johnson paved the way for Women of colour to be recognised in academia, notably the scientific fields. Despite the official de-segregation of NASA in 1958, Johnson continued to experienced discrimination at work and in her quotidian due to the prevalence of racial bias and prejudice. In 1964 the American introduction of Civil Rights Act legislatively outlawed discrimination formed on race, religion or sex. This notorious change is the nucleic point in increasing attempts to restructure society. Katherine was presented with the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’, in 2015, where her various triumphs were applauded. This shift toward a future of equality, signposted by the appropriation of academia, was, is and will continue to be an inspiration for many, uniting people in admiration and recognition globally.

An innumerable number of pages could be filled documenting Black genius and talent. Defying adversity in a society which continuously challenges and condemns those who are different. The celebration of such renowned effects of perseverance during Black history month honours and substantiates Black heritage as intellectual, radiant and progressively subversive.

“You are no better than anyone else, and no one is better than you.”

-Katherine Johnson



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