Thanks to the release of the film “Hidden Figures,” Mary Jackson has come to more of the forefront – as she deserves to, as she was a key researcher working in NASA even while Jim Crow laws were still in effect.
Mary Jackson primarily worked in the Hampton and Langley areas in Virginia, starting as a research mathematician (a computer – as in, someone who computes) in the early 1950s. After taking a job with engineer Czarnecki with wind tunnel and aerodynamics research, Czarnecki encouraged Jackson to study to become an engineer – a task that entailed studying advanced mathematics and science, and due to the segregated education at the time, also entailed Jackson petitioning the City of Hampton to allow her to take the night classes necessary.
She went on to working at NASA, and the film “Hidden Figures” (and the book it is based on) adapts and recounts some of her story working on Project Mercury at NASA. But her story did not end there – after 34 years at NASA, Jackson reached the most senior engineer position possible in the organization; continuing her informal mentoring work helping women and people of color in their careers, she took a demotion to work in the Equal Opportunity offices to help women and other under-represented groups in building careers in mathematics, science and engineering.
An adaptation of her story is in the film “Hidden Figures” as noted, where she is portrayed by Janelle Monae, but you can also read about Mary Jackson’s contributions to her nation and her field via her memorial entry at NASA (https://crgis.ndc.nasa.gov/crgis/images/4/4a/MaryJackson.pdf). And for those on the Peninsula, she is still a figure larger than life.
Photos: Public Domain Images from NASA