In Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, Katherine Johnson and her colleagues gather around a television set to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon. It’s a moment that has the world watching, but Johnson has a special connection with the mission. Despite the prejudices of the day, she has overcome discrimination to become a vital part of NASA – and her brilliant mind has sent men to the stars on many occasions.
Katherine was born on August 26, 1918, in White Sulphur Springs, a popular resort city in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Her mother Joylette worked as a teacher, while her father Joshua was employed by the grand Greenbrier Hotel. At the time, segregation was still in force in the state, and prejudices against African Americans were strong.
Nonetheless, Joshua always tried to instill a sense of worth in his four children. And even though it wasn’t possible for African American pupils to study past the eighth grade in Greenbrier County, Katherine and her siblings began attending school in a neighboring area. By that time, the young girl had begun to exhibit a remarkable talent for math.