Katherine Johnson: Early Reader Edition

by Naomi Gledhill from MY HERO Staff

152638Katherine Johnson at NASA in 1966.Wikimedia CommonsKatherine Johnson was born on August 26th, 1918, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, in the United States of America. Her mother was a teacher, and her father worked as a farmer and handyman. He did odd jobs for people in their town like fixing and building things. Katherine had three older siblings.

From a very young age, Katherine was extremely clever. She was particularly good at maths. However, Greenbrier County, where Katherine grew up, did not allow African American children to go to school after the eighth grade. Katherine and her family had to move to a town called Institute in West Virginia so that the children could go to school. Katherine was so clever, that she graduated from high school when she was just 14 years old. She then went to college and took every mathematics course that the college offered. She graduated summa cum laude, which means she was one of the best in her class, when she was 18 years old.

After college, Katherine wanted to work in maths. At the time though, women and African American people were not really allowed to work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Instead, Katherine worked as a teacher. However, in 1952, Katherine heard about NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. NACA are a team that work to discover more about space. They hired women and African Americans and were looking for mathematicians to join their Guidance and Navigation department. Katherine applied for the job and started working for them in 1953.

Back then, white people and African American people were separated and had to work in different rooms from each other. This was called segregation. It wasn’t until NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, another company that does space research) took over NACA in 1958 that the segregation at work stopped.

When NASA took over, Katherine worked in space controls. She helped to plan the journey of Alan Shepard’s flight to space in 1961. Alan Shepard was the first American to reach space. His journey was safe thanks to Katherine’s work. She also helped to map out the flights of Apollo 11 and Apollo 13. Lots of people who have been to space got back safely because of Katherine Johnson! She was given many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was presented to her by President Barack Obama in 2015.

Katherine spent her retirement (the years after she stopped working) helping to inspire young people to study and work in STEM, especially young girls. Even though things have improved since Katherine was at school, young girls are still encouraged to work in STEM subjects less than boys. Katherine Johnson proved that girls can be the very best at science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Katherine died in February of 2020, when she was 101 years old. When she died, one of the people in charge of NASA, Jim Bridenstine, said that Katherine was an American hero, and that her work will never be forgotten.

To read a more advanced level story about Katherine Johnson, click here.

Page created on 9/15/2023 12:21:55 PM

Last edited 10/3/2023 5:02:42 PM

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