Crystal R. Sanders is an associate professor of history and director of the Africana Research Center at Pennsylvania State University: The world mourns Katherine Johnson, a pioneering mathematician and scientist who became famous for performing the calculations that enabled the first American, John Glenn, to orbit the Earth. Although the blockbuster hit “Hidden Figures” made Johnson famous for her work at NASA, she also made history long before the space race with the Soviet Union as one of the first black graduate students to attend a previously all-white, tax-supported Southern university. Johnson blazed a trail in West Virginia when she desegregated West Virginia University in 1940. Johnson’s vast achievements demonstrated the intellectual capabilities of black students — black women in particular.
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