Margot Lee Shetterly is the author of Hidden Figures: The American Dream And The Untold Story Of The Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win The Space Race. From the transcript of her interview with NPR's Michel Martin:
MARTIN: ...[W]hy do you think we don't know this story? Now, I confess to you that when I mentioned to a couple of different people that I was working on this and that I was about to have this conversation with you, a number of people said the same thing to me, which is it makes me mad. Why didn't I know this? Why am I only just finding this out? Why do you think that is?--Marshal Zeringue
SHETTERLY: That is such a good question. I would say that is the one question that everybody asks me about this. And, you know, it's something I really kind of struggle with because on the one hand, a lot of people did know this story in Hampton, Va. You know, I was just in Hampton yesterday and was talking to a lot of different people, and they were like, well, we did know these women. And we knew they worked there. And they were all very modest.
If you ask Katherine Johnson, how did it feel to be a trailblazer and do this very high-pressure, groundbreaking work, you know, just as often she'll say, well, I was just doing my job. And I think a lot of the women period felt that. They had a lot of different identities in addition to being professional mathematician at NASA. They were mothers. They were wives. They were people who were active in their church, in their community. So this was only one aspect of their identity.
But I think a lot of it's because it was women's work. I mean, the engineers were the men, and the women were the mathematicians or the computers. The men designed the research and did the manly stuff, and the women did the calculations, you know, at the behest of the engineers. And so I think that it really does have to do with...[read on]