Last Sunday’s observance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) was a joyous time for all of us to connect with our roots by celebrating our HBCUs. HBCUs have an important role in our culture and community. Since the time of their inception, HBCUs and their respective Greek organizations have been dedicated to academic excellence, kinship, social justice, leadership, and uplifting African Americans. A few years ago, it was expressed by many that in a post-racial world, HBCUs were no longer necessary. The recent reversing of political gains and economic advancements have clearly shown that we need our HBCUs now more than ever. We must not forget that HBCUs have greatly contributed to the nation’s workforce by producing a mass of distinguished graduates in many fields of study, most notably in science, technology, and mathematics. Overall, HBCUs provide a value that predominately white institutions do not have. As Christian churches have played a role in the establishment of HBCUs, I express my deepest thanks to Shiloh’s HBCU Council for keeping us accountable to our roles in helping our youth achieve an HBCU education. Job well done!
On February 24, 2020, the Washington Post reported the death of Katherine Johnson, one of the NASA mathematicians depicted in “Hidden Figures.” Last year, our Senior Citizens Club, in one of its many offerings of quality events, hosted a screening of the movie in Heritage Hall. I was blessed to have shared with some of our seniors in this significant event. We laughed, talked back to the characters on the screen, and just had a great time together! This was the first time I became aware of the enormous contribution Mrs. Johnson made to science and particularly to space travel. Washington, DC’s own, Taraji P. Henson portrayed Johnson with an excellently understated depiction of Johnson’s complex character while providing deep insight into the resolve and courage of Black people and Black women particularly. Henson portrayed Katherine Johnson as a woman of class seasoned with sass. We must be mindful that Mrs. Johnson functioned in an era when Black women were still viewed by much of the nation as little more than mammies, maids, or entry-level secretaries.
The Post indicated that Mrs. Johnson died at 101 years old. Her remarkable career was marked by the fact that she developed NACA’s (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, a precursor of NASA) codifying mathematical principles that to this day remain at the core of human space travel. One particularly interesting fact the movie illustrated was that John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, would not launch his mission to space until he directed NASA to, “get the girl to check the numbers.” “If she says the numbers are good, I am ready to go,” said Glenn.
It is an interesting coincidence that as Black History Month ends and Women’s History Month begins, we celebrate the life of a woman who was an icon of Black American excellence. We also celebrate Katherine Johnson as a pioneer in the Women’s Rights Movement, demonstrating that women can excel in a field usually reserved for men. Katherine Johnson was not only a woman ahead of her time, but a Black woman who showed the world that Black people are as intellectually gifted in mathematics as any culture or race of people. To God be the glory!