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Hidden Figures - Mrs. Mary Jackson

Mary Winston Jackson (1921–2005) successfully overcame the barriers of segregation and gender bias to become a professional aerospace engineer and leader in ensuring equal opportunities for future generations. Credits: NASA

Hidden Figures - Mrs. Mary Jackson

Recognition for Mary Winston Jackson 1921 -2005, she was the first African American female engineer at NASA. In 2019, she was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Many people who have no idea who was Mary Winston Jackson or what she did, but thanks to award winning movie, Hidden Figures, we all now better understand the significance of the names like Mary Winston Jackson. Jim Bridenstine,  NASA Administrator, announced that the agency’s headquarters building in Washington, D.C., will be named after Mary W. Jackson. 

NASA Building Mrs. Mary W. Jackson                                                                                               Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building in Washington, D.C. - Credits: NASA

Ms. Jackson started her career at NASA during the some of the worst times in American history of the civil rights movement. She was part of the segregated West Area Computing Unit of the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Mary W. Jackson never accepted the status quo, she helped break barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology,” said Jim Bridenstine. Ms. Jackson was a mathematician and aerospace engineer at the time and she later went on to lead programs influencing the hiring and promotion of, not just black women, women in NASA's science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers.

Today the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building appropriately sits on ‘Hidden Figures Way,’ as a reminder that Ms. Jackson was one of many incredible and talented professionals in NASA’s history who contributed to this agency’s success. “Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space. said Jim Bridenstine.

Hidden Figures Way was part of bipartisan bill by Sens. Ted Cruz, Ed Markey, John Thune, and Bill Nelson and in 1992 it finally made its way through Congress, and the then portion of E Street SW in front of NASA Headquarters was renamed, “Hidden Figures Way”.

Jackson was born and raised in Hampton, Virginia, she attended high school in Hampton Virginia and after graduation she attended the Hampton Institute and graduated in 1942 with a dual degree in math and physical sciences, and initially accepted a job as a math teacher in Calvert County, Maryland. After graduation she would work as a bookkeeper before marrying Mr. Levi Jackson and starting a family. She later worked as a U.S. Army secretary before she got the opportunity to kick-off her aerospace career.

Mrs. Jackson was recruited by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which in 1958 was succeeded by NASA, in 1951. Her career started off as a research mathematician, she became known as one of the human computers at Langley where she worked under fellow “Hidden Figure” Dorothy Vaughan in the segregated West Area Computing Unit.

The 99-year-old Katherine Johnson was there in 2017, then to personally dedicate a new state-of-the-art computer research facility the bears her name at Langley. Johnson also was honored as a trailblazer and given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, she was another original member of the West Area Computing Unit,.

Administrator Jim Bridenstine added, “NASA facilities across the country are named after people who dedicated their lives to push the frontiers of the aerospace industry. The nation is beginning to awaken to the greater need to honor the full diversity of people who helped pioneer our great nation. Over the years NASA has worked to honor the work of these Hidden Figures in various ways, including naming facilities, renaming streets and celebrating their legacy. We know there are many other people of color and diverse backgrounds who have contributed to our success, which is why we’re continuing the conversations started about a year ago with the agency’s Unity Campaign. NASA is dedicated to advancing diversity, and we will continue to take steps to do so.”

For additional information on Mary W. Jackson, the “Hidden Figures,” and today’s Modern Figures, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/modernfigures

 

Category: Editorials
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