‘Hidden Figures’ author coming to Stanley

Margot_Lee_Shetterly

America’s fight to come out on top in the space race was not immune from racism.

UTICA – America’s fight to come out on top in the space race was not immune from racism.

“Hidden Figures,” the new box office hit in movie theaters, chronicles the racism and sexism encountered by the black women working as mathematicians at NASA during the civil rights era. It has made $61.9 million in its two-week run. 

Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of the book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race” which inspired the movie, is coming to Utica at 7 p.m. Friday at the Stanley Center for the Arts.

Since some of the space program was centered in Hampton, Virginia, during the 1960s, segregation between blacks, whites and women and men was the norm.

“They needed all hands on deck. Like: ’We don’t have enough computers? Where are we going to get them? Oh, there are these black women, at this black school, that’s right across town? Let’s get them in here,” Shetterly said in an interview with the New York Times. “There was a bit of an emergency sensibility a lot of the time.”

As NASA set its sight on sending the first man into space before the Soviet Union, officials began to realize they were in over their heads and might need help from new sectors, leading to the recruitment of black female “computers.” One of those brilliant mathematical minds was Katherine Johnson, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 for her efforts.

“It’s the responsibility of people like me to tell these stories so that other people can see that this is normal,” Shetterly told The Times. “The black experience isn’t exclusively slavery/civil rights/Obama. There are certain stories that are automatically on the trajectory, and anything that’s not on that is hidden in the shadows. Meanwhile, most people live their lives between those dots.”

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The event is presented by the Project Fibonacci Foundation Inc. as part of the Women & STEAM Speakers Series.

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