Few in Toronto’s Caribbean community may be aware of the three African-American woman whose work on “Project Mercury” made it possible for the United States to catch up in the space race by launching the first American, Alan Shepard, into space and sending John Glenn into orbit around the earth.
Now the inspiring story about these women – Dorothy Vaughan, the first black supervisor at NASA, and her two influential coworkers , Kathreine Johnson and Mary Jackson – is told in a new film , Hidden Figures, to be released in cinemas across Canada on January 6.
Octavia Spencer who plays the role of Vaughan, noted in a recent interview that even in times of hardship and turbulence, individuals can still make a difference and that’s what Vaughan and her coworkers did with little credit given to them in the 1950s.
“African-American women were living at the time where segregation was the letter of the law.They were basically treated as second-class citizens, but they weren’t complaining. They knew that they had more to offer, and they basically rolled up their sleeves and they did the work to be a part of something greater than themselves.”
During her decades at NASA, Vaughan headed the West Area Computing Unit after Jim Crow laws required segregation of the female African-American mathematicians from their white counterparts.
Spencer believe that the story of these women half a century ago still resonates strongly today.