You could say that NASA naming their headquarters in Washington DC after Mary Jackson is a melancholy gesture. Jackson, who was the first Black female engineer at NASA was depicted in the 2016 film Hidden Figures. Sadly, it took thousands of protestors sparked by the death of George Floyd to inspire the change.
“Hidden no more, we will continue to recognize the contributions of women, African Americans, and people of all backgrounds who have made NASA’s successful history of exploration possible,” Mr. Bridenstine, who is NASA’s current administrator, said in a statement.
Jackson was born in Hampton, Virginia in 1921, and worked at NASA for 34 years. She died in 2005. Jackson was posthumously awarded the congressional medal of freedom in 2019.
“Mary W Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space,” Mr. Bridenstine added.
“Mary never accepted the status quo, she helped break barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology.”
NASA began recruiting some college-educated African American women in the 1940s as “human computers”, but many of them experienced both racial and gender discrimination at work – even having segregated toilets.
Her daughter, Carolyn Lewis, said the family was honored that NASA was continuing her mother’s legacy.
“She was a scientist, humanitarian, wife, mother, and trailblazer who paved the way for thousands of others to succeed, not only at NASA but throughout this nation,” she said.
Mary Jackson was recruited in 1951 by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics which was succeeded by NASA in 1958. She worked under Dorothy Vaughan – whose story was also told in Hidden Figures – in the segregated West Area Computing Unit at Langley, Virginia.
While this name change is certainly welcome and necessary, let’s hope that more African Americans who helped shape America can have buildings and statues named after them without being sparked by massive protests demanding change.
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