Campus Read 2017-18
The WVU community will rediscover Hidden Figures from our nation’s history and learn about the connections to West Virginia in the 2017-18 Campus Read.
An American Story with a West Virginia Connection
The Campus Read book selection for the 2017-2018 academic year is Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly.
Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group
of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide
rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and
astronauts, into space.
Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.
Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens.
Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.
"This book tells a fascinating story that reshapes our understanding of our national history. For all of us at West Virginia University, however, it also touches close to home," said Provost Joyce McConnell.
Two of the central characters in Hidden Figures lived or went to school in West Virginia. Johnson—now 98 years old—was born in 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier County. She graduated from high school at 14 and later became the first African American to attend graduate school at WVU.
Though Johnson did not complete her graduate program in math, she went on to a tremendously successful career with NASA. In May of 2016, she was awarded a Presidential Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from WVU for “attaining national and international preeminence in the field of astrophysics and providing distinguished leadership and service in her field.”
Dorothy Vaughn was born in 1910 in Kansas City, Missouri but moved to Morgantown as a teenager and graduated from Beechurst High School in 1925. (The school itself no longer exists.)