Katherine Johnson, the NASA Mathematician Who Advanced Human Rights with a Slide Rule and Pencil

NASA chief Charles Bolden recalls the historic trajectory of the “human computer” who played a key role in the Apollo 11 moon landing, and as a female African-American in the 1960s, shattered stereotypes in the process.

Katherine Johnson, photographed at Fort Monroe, in Hampton, Virginia. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.

When I was growing up, in segregated South Carolina, African-American role models in national life were few and far between. Later, when my fellow flight students and I, in training at the Naval Air Station in Meridian, Mississippi, clustered around a small television watching the Apollo 11 moon landing, little did I know that one of the key figures responsible for its success was an unassuming black woman from West Virginia: Katherine Johnson. Hidden Figures is both an upcoming book and an upcoming movie about her incredible life, and, as the title suggests, Katherine worked behind the scenes but with incredible impact.

When Katherine began at NASA, she and her cohorts were known as “human computers,” and if you talk to her or read quotes from throughout her long career, you can see that precision, that humming mind, constantly at work. She is a human computer, indeed, but one with a quick wit, a quiet ambition, and a confidence in her talents that rose above her era and her surroundings.

“In math, you’re either right or you’re wrong,” she said. Her succinct words belie a deep curiosity about the world and dedication to her discipline, despite the prejudices of her time against both women and African-Americans. It was her duty to calculate orbital trajectories and flight times relative to the position of the moon—you know, simple things. In this day and age, when we increasingly rely on technology, it’s hard to believe that John Glenn himself tasked Katherine to double-check the results of the computer calculations before his historic orbital flight, the first by an American. The numbers of the human computer and the machine matched.

With a slide rule and a pencil, Katherine advanced the cause of human rights and the frontier of human achievement at the same time. Having graduated from high school at 14 and college at 18 at a time when African-Americans often did not go beyond the eighth grade, she used her amazing facility with geometry to calculate Alan Shepard’s flight path and took the Apollo 11 crew to the moon to orbit it, land on it, and return safely to Earth.

I was so proud of Katherine as I sat with hundreds of other guests in the East Room of the White House and watched as she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama last year. Katherine’s great mind and amazing talents advanced our freedoms at the most basic level—the freedom to pursue the biggest dreams we can possibly imagine and to step into any room in the country and take a seat at the table because our expertise and excellence deserve it. Katherine, now 97, took her seat without fanfare. As far as not being equal was concerned, she said, “I didn’t have time for that. My dad taught us ‘you are as good as anybody in this town, but you’re no better.’ ” I’d posit that Katherine was better—not only at math but also at applying her talents with the precision and beauty possible only in mathematics.  She achieved the perfect parabola—casting herself to the stars and believing she could chart the journey home.


August 23, 2016 – African-American Women’s Equal Pay Day

Equal Pay Day, August 23, for African-American women is a full 236 days into a second year that they have to work to be equal in pay to the dollar paid white, non-Hispanic men  working just one year. In other words, their median pay in 2014 was 64 cents compared to the white man’s dollar, leaving a gap of 36 cents. One reason for the large wage gap is that African-American women experience both gender and race discrimination leading to a lifetime of low pay. Updated information from 2015 Census data shows that the median earnings for African-American women has declined to 60 percent of the white man’s dollar!

Based on the 2014 wage gap, African-American women would lose $877,480 over a 40-year working career compared to white non-Hispanic men and in some states the lifetime loss could be as high as more than $1 million.

Recent studies have calculated that closing the pay gap for all women would cut the poverty rate in half (8.1 percent to 3.9 percent), and for single women, the poverty rate would drop by more than half to 4.6 percent. At the same time, the economy would receive a huge boost of nearly a half-billion dollars from women receiving equal pay! For women of color, equal pay would lift many out of poverty and provide the financial stability needed to raise their families.

Black History Month 2016: 15 Interesting Facts About Famous African-Americans And The February Celebration

BY @SUPERJULIA ON 01/31/16 AT 8:09 AM

Are you ready to learn? Black History Month begins in the U.S. Monday, and the observance, celebrating African-Americans’ achievements and contributions to the country, runs throughout February. Although some chapters of the national story are famous — such as the one centered on Jackie Robinson’s debut as the first black Major League Baseball player — others are less well-known.

Here are 15 bits of information you should know about Black History Month.

1. Black History Month started in 1926. The observance was proposed by Carter Godwin Woodson, an author and historian, as Negro History Week. It expanded in the 1970s.

2. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded in 1909. It’s now considered “the nation’s oldest, largest and most widely recognized grassroots-based civil-rights organization,” according to its website.

3. The U.S. isn’t the only country to celebrate Black History Month. Canada also observes it in February, while the U.K. recognizes it in October.

4. There are more than 45 million African-Americans living in the U.S.,according to Census Bureau data. That’s about 15 percent of the nation’s population.

5. In 2013, New York had the most African-American residents, with 3.7 million.

6. There are more than 2 million black veterans.

7. By 2060, the black population is forecast to make up almost 18 percent of the U.S. population.

8. In 2005, actor Morgan Freeman said Black History Month was “ridiculous” because “black history is American history.” More than 10 years later, actress Stacey Dash expressed a similar opinion.

9. The first black birth on record in what would become the U.S. happened in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1606. And the first African-American birth occurred in 1624, according to the African American Registry.

10. The first black NBA player was Earl Lloyd in 1950. He played for the Washington Capitols and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame more than half a century later, in 2003.

11. African-Americans were responsible for the invention of 3D graphics, blood banks, gas masks, potato chips and Super Soaker water guns, according to HowStuffWorks and the Atlanta Black Star.

12. One out of every four cowboys in the 1800s was black, CNN reported.

13. The 114th Congress, the current one, is the most diverse ever. Forty-six House and Senate members are black, according to the Pew Research Center.

14. The first black U.S. senator was Hiram Revels in 1870. The day he officially joined Congress, “visitors in the Senate galleries burst into applause as … [he] entered the chamber to take his oath of office,” according to the Senate website.

15. President Barack Obama proclaimed February to be Black History Month Friday, writing that as the nation observes it, “we recognize these champions of justice and the sacrifices they made to bring us to this point, we honor the contributions of African-Americans since our country’s beginning, and we recommit to reaching for a day when no person is judged by anything but the content of their character.”


The Sex-Abuse-to-Prison Pipeline: How Girls of Color Are Unjustly Arrested and Incarcerated

Your Take: Black and brown girls are first victimized and then punished, often in connection with sexual violence that has been perpetrated against them.

Posted: July 9 2015 3:00 AM
Getty Images

Getty Images

In 2014, President Barack Obama announced My Brother’s Keeper, a desperately needed initiative to create educational and economic opportunities for black and brown boys and men. In addition to My Brother’s Keeper, there has been a new and emerging recognition that mass incarceration must come to an end, along with the school-to-prison pipeline that relegates so many youths of color to the juvenile-justice system.

Against the backdrop of these efforts, there seems to be a common trope that girls of color are fine. Unlike black and brown boys, they are not endangered by punitive school policies that push them out, or a systematic criminalization of their behavior that pipelines them into the juvenile-justice system. Black and brown girls are not fine, and their struggles are being dangerously left out of the discursive spaces on criminal-justice reform.

My organization, the Human Rights Project for Girls, along with the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality and the Ms. Foundation for Women, just released “The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story” (pdf), a report that exposes how girls, specifically girls of color, are arrested and incarcerated as a result of sexual abuse.

One in 3 juveniles arrested (pdf) is a girl. Girls tend to be arrested at younger ages than boys, usually entering the system at age 13 or 14. And while girls are only 14 percent of incarcerated youths, they make up the fastest-growing segment of the juvenile-justice system.

Sexual abuse is one of the primary predictors (pdf) of girls’ detention. Girls are rarely arrested for violent crimes. They are arrested for nonviolent behaviors that are correlative with enduring and escaping from abusive environments—offenses such as truancy and running away. Many girls run away from abusive homes or foster-care placements, only to then be arrested for the status offense of running away. Whereas abused women are told to run from their batterers, when girls run from abuse, they are locked up.

There is also the grim example of how girls are criminalized when they are trafficked for sex as children. When poor black and brown girls are bought and sold for sex, they are rarely regarded or treated as victims of trafficking. Instead, they are children jailed for prostitution. According to the FBI, African-American children make up 59 percent (pdf) of all prostitution-related arrests under the age of 18 in the U.S., and girls make up 76 percent (pdf) of all prostitution-related arrests under the age of 18 in the U.S.

Another lens through which to understand the degree of sexual violence and trauma endured by justice-involved girls is their own histories. The younger a girl’s age when she enters the juvenile-justice system, the more likely she is (pdf) to have been sexually assaulted and/or seriously physically injured. One California study found that 60 percent (pdf) of girls in the state’s jails had been raped or were in danger of being raped at some point in their lives. Similarly, a study of delinquent girls in South Carolina found that 81 percent (pdf) reported a history of sexual violence: Sixty-nine percent had experienced violence by their caregiver, and 42 percent reported dating violence.

It has to be pointed out, as the “Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline” report does, that this is, distinctly, a pipeline for girls of color. Youths of color account for 45 percent of the general youth population, but girls of color—who are approximately half of all youths of color—make up approximately two-thirds of girls who are incarcerated.

There must be real questions raised about why girls of color are being imprisoned for their victimization. Why is the status of victim or survivor denied to girls of color at the margins? Why are they not contemplated as victims, and do entrenched racial mythologies that frame black and brown girls as oversexualized, promiscuous and sexually loose contribute to the denied status?

We must surface the hidden and disregarded realities of how vulnerable black and brown girls are treated differently, and indeed punished, for their experiences of sexual and physical abuse. We cannot continue to leave them behind. Because their lives matter.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

Malika Saada Saar is executive director of the Human Rights Project for Girls and special counsel on human rights for the Raben Group.


Group calls for “Black Women’s Equal Pay Day” to call attention to wage gap between black women, white men

Because black lives shouldn’t only matter after they’ve been taken



An Atlanta group is leading a national coalition of progressive organizations in urging employees to symbolically clock out of work at 2:07 p.m. on Tuesday, July 28th in order to help bring attention to the wage gap faced by black women in the workplace.

Both the time and the date of the clock out are significant, according to Atlanta Women for Equality (AWE) Executive Director Lisa Anderson. Black women only make $0.64 for every dollar earned by white men, and 2:07 p.m. is approximately 64 percent of an average workday — which is when a black woman could leave work if she were paid the same as her white peers. For a black woman to earn the same income as her white male counterparts in 2014, she would need to work an extra 208 into 2015 — or July 28, 2015, which just happens to be tomorrow.

The wage gap between black women and white men demonstrates why both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have sought to link the issues of racial injustice and economic inequity in the past week — both have a significant impact on black lives, which shouldn’t only matter after they’ve been taken. As Clinton said, “Black Lives Matter” shouldn’t be “just a slogan, it should be a guiding principle.”

AWE hopes to further that principle by asking participants to download a printable time card and post a picture of themselves holding it on social media. The idea is generate conversations about the wage gap both on AWE’s Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram accounts and social media at large using the hashtags #BlackWomenEqualPay and #ClockOut4EqualPay.

AWE’s executive director, Lisa Anderson, said in an email to Salon that she became interested in the issues of wage inequality and employment discrimination after learning how vulnerable workers in the Atlanta area are in discrimination cases. According the Atlanta law firm Barrett and Farahany, 80 percent of cases brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the city are thrown out judges — meaning that the plaintiffs never have the chance to take their case before juries, which are much more likely to side with employees over employers.

Because the majority of those filing Title VII discrimination claims are poor, they typically lack the funds to acquire adequate representation in the first place. AWE was founded to assist in cases like this, Anderson told Salon via email, and Black Women’s Equality Pay Day is a part of that effort.

“I never used to believe in lawsuits,” Anderson wrote, “but I learned the hard way just how rampant gender discrimination of all forms is in our workplaces and schools, how difficult it is to make institutions to stop sexual misconduct, how swift and devastating retaliation can be, and how much of a mess your life can be when you suddenly wake up to a wicked case of PTSD, an administrative obstacle course, and a gazillion other resulting difficulties you never imagined could happen.”

However, she added, “I also learned what an extraordinarily empowering impact legal aid can have on the lives of people like me, why suits for monetary damages are sometimes an effective way to protect others from sexual violation, and why legal action is one of the most crucial parts of the larger fight for women’s rights.”

Scott Eric Kaufman is an assistant editor at Salon. He taught at a university, but then thought better of it. Follow him at @scottekaufman or email him at skaufman@salon.com.


On the Death of Sandra Bland and Our Vulnerable Bodies

JULY 24, 2015
Roxane Gay


I AM tired of writing about slain black people, particularly when those
responsible are police officers, the very people obligated to serve and protect
them. I am exhausted. I experience this specific exhaustion with alarming
frequency. I am all too aware that I have the luxury of such exhaustion.

One of the greatest lies perpetrated on our culture today is the notion that
dash cameras on police cruisers and body cameras on police officers are tools
of justice. Video evidence, no matter the source, can document injustice, but
rarely does this incontrovertible evidence keep black people safe or prevent
future injustices.

Sandra Bland, 28 years old, was pulled over earlier this month in Waller
County, Tex., by a state trooper, Brian T. Encinia. She was pulled over for a
routine traffic stop. She shouldn’t have been pulled over but she was driving
while black, and the reality is that black women and men are pulled over every
day for this infraction brought about by the color of their skin.

We know a lot about Ms. Bland now. She was in the prime of her life,
about to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University. She had posted on
Facebook earlier this year that she was experiencing depression. She was
passionate about civil rights and advocacy. According to an autopsy report, she
committed suicide in her jail cell after three days. What I find particularly
painful is that her bail was $5,000. Certainly, that is a lot of money, but if the
public had known, we could have helped her family raise the funds to get her

As a black woman, I feel this tragedy through the marrow of my bones.
We all should, regardless of the identities we inhabit.

Recently, my brother and I were talking on the phone as he drove to work.
He is the chief executive of a publicly traded company. He was dressed for
work, driving a BMW. He was using a hands­free system. These particulars
shouldn’t matter but they do in a world where we have to constantly mourn
the loss of black lives and memorialize them with hashtags. In this same
world, we remind politicians and those who believe otherwise that black lives
matter while suffocated by evidence to the contrary.

During the course of our conversation, he was pulled over by an officer
who said he looked like an escapee from Pelican Bay State Prison in California.
It was a strange story for any number of reasons. My brother told me he would
call me right back. In the minutes I waited, my chest tightened. I worried. I
stared at my phone. When he called back, no more than seven or eight minutes
had passed. He joked: “I thought it was my time. I thought ‘this is it.’ ” He
went on with his day because this is a quotidian experience for black people
who dare to drive.

Each time I get in my car, I make sure I have my license, registration and
insurance cards. I make sure my seatbelt is fastened. I place my cellphone in
the handless dock. I check and double check and triple check these details
because when (not if) I get pulled over, I want there to be no doubt I am
following the letter of the law. I do this knowing it doesn’t really matter if I am
following the letter of the law or not. Law enforcement officers see only the
color of my skin, and in the color of my skin they see criminality, deviance, a
lack of humanity. There is nothing I can do to protect myself, but I am
comforted by the illusion of safety.

As a larger, very tall woman, I am sometimes mistaken for a man. I don’t
want to be “accidentally” killed for being a black man. I hate that such a
thought even crosses my mind. This is the reality of living in this black body.
This is my reality of black womanhood, living in a world where I am stripped
of my femininity and humanity because of my unruly black body.

There is a code of conduct in emergency situations — women and children
first. The most vulnerable among us should be rescued before all others. In
reality, this code of conduct is white women and children first. Black women,
black children, they are not afforded the luxury of vulnerability. We have been
shown this time and again. We remember McKinney, Tex., and a police officer,
David Casebolt, holding a young black girl to the ground. We say the names of
the fallen. Tamir Rice. Renisha McBride. Natasha McKenna. Tanisha
Anderson. Rekia Boyd. We say their names until our throats run dry and there
are still more names to add to the list.

During the ill­fated traffic stop, most of which was caught on camera, Mr.
Encinia asked Ms. Bland why she was irritated and she told him. She answered
the question she was asked. Her voice was steady, confident. Mr. Encinia
didn’t like her tone, as if she should be joyful about a traffic stop. He told Ms.
Bland to put her cigarette out and she refused. The situation escalated. Mr.
Encinia threatened to light her up with his Taser. Ms. Bland was forced to
leave her car. She continued to protest. She was placed in handcuffs. She was
treated horribly. She was treated as less than human. She protested her
treatment. She knew and stated her rights but it did not matter. Her black life
and her black body did not matter.

Because Sandra Bland was driving while black, because she was not
subservient in the manner this trooper preferred, a routine traffic stop became
a death sentence. Even if Ms. Bland did commit suicide, there is an entire
system of injustice whose fingerprints left bruises on her throat.
In his impassioned new memoir, “Between the World and Me,” Ta­Nehisi
Coates writes, “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is
heritage.” I would take this bold claim a step further. It is also traditional to
try and destroy the black spirit. I don’t want to believe our spirits can be
broken. Nonetheless, increasingly, as a black woman in America, I do not feel
alive. I feel like I am not yet dead.

Roxane Gay is the author of “An Untamed State” and “Bad Feminist” and a
contributing opinion writer.

A version of this op­ed appears in print on July 25, 2015, on page A21 of the New York edition with
the headline: On the Death of Sandra Bland.


© 2015 The New York Times Company

Kirkpatrick, Margolin, Nokes in town for Newport Reads!

Newport Reads! promotes its tenth annual reading program with a triple header on April 9 at the Newport Performing Arts Center. Oregon authors Jane Kirkpatrick, Phillip Margolin and Gregory Nokes will discuss the role of black people in settling Oregon and their recent books on the subject. Doors open at 6:30 for book signing and the program begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Alice Silverman Theater. Sponsored by the Newport Public Library Foundation, the program is free to all readers.
Nokes and Margolin wrote books relating to the ground-breaking court case, Holmes versus Ford. Nokes wrote Breaking Chains, a nonfiction account, and Margolin gave us Worthy Brown’s Daughter, a work of fiction inspired by the same case. Kirkpatrick’s latest book, A Light in the Wilderness, is the story of a woman of color and also features a significant court case. “These books were among my first glimpses into black history in Oregon, which is only recently being talked about and widely published,” said Wyma Rogers from the Newport Reads Committee.
Nokes is a former reporter and editor for the Associated Press and the Oregonian. A Portland native who attended Willamette and Harvard Universities, Nokes is known for his work in uncovering details of the 1887 massacre of 34 Chinese gold miners in Hells Canyon.
Margolin grew up in New York City and graduated from the American University in Washington, D.C. He came to Oregon to practice criminal law prior to writing mystery and detective novels. His success as a writer has resulted in numerous awards and slots on the NYT best-seller list.
Kirkpatrick is a popular Oregon writer, speaker and teacher. Her books have won several awards, including the Oregon Book Award. Kirkpatrick began as a social worker graduate of the University of Wisconsin. In her retirement, she homesteaded land on the John Day River in a remote part of Oregon known as Starvation Point.

    Check your local bookstores for copies of the books. There will also be books to purchase at the program. The Newport Public Library has multiple copies of each book for lending. Mark your calendars now for April 9, 7 p.m., at the PAC. For more information, see the library web site www.newportpubliclibrary.com.

[coastalnetwork] Network: Lincoln and South Tillamook Counties, Announcements for March 25, 2015 ‏