Reaching for The Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson is a book you should put in your reading queue.
It is written for young adults so it reads very quickly for an adult reader. It tells the actual story that you may have seen in the movie Hidden Figures. It expands on it, actually. Because she is over 100 years old, this autobiography covers recollections from the late 1920’s right on through to today. She starts as a young girl that loved to count and ends as a woman receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Johnson writes about her struggles and successes in a very matter-of-fact way, not shying away from discussing racism she faced through her life. She is a former teacher so you can almost hear her saying “Now let me tell you about ______, boys and girls.” There are digressions where she sets the stage for what was going on in the world and country as she was making her way. Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson make appearances. Major Supreme Court cases pertaining to race and significant events like the assassination of JFK are included. She writes about events that span 10 decades of race relations in the United States. When she concludes her story with a trip to the Obama White House, you literally want to cheer.
She makes known some of the “dramatic license” that was taken with her story in the movie Hidden Figures. Spoiler alert: she didn’t run from building to building to use the facilities. She frequently returns to a theme, something her Daddy taught her, paraphrasing, “You are as good as anyone else, but no better.” At once she was told to think of herself not as less than because of her race but also not as greater than because of her intellect.
This and several other books about Johnson and her co-workers are must reads.