NASA Names HQ After ‘Hidden Figure’ Mary Jackson, Its First Black Woman Engineer

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TOPLINE

NASA will name its Washington, D.C., headquarters after Mary W. Jackson, the first black woman engineer at the agency, NASA announced Wednesday, as leaders across the country reexamine which historical figures are memorialized in public spaces in the wake of protests against police brutality and racism.

KEY FACTS

The building is currently not named after anyone.

Jackson, who died in 2005, is one of the women who inspired the film Hidden Figures, in which she was portrayed by Janelle Monáe.

Jackson started her career at NASA working as a mathematician in a segregated unit at a research center in Virginia, becoming known as one of the “human computers” at the facility.

She was eventually promoted from a mathematician to engineer in 1958, but she had to get special permission from the agency to complete the training program for the promotion because it was held in a segregated high school nearby.

The announcement comes after many in the space industry called on the agency this week to rename the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, which is named after John C. Stennis, a senator who supported segregation and fought against racial equality. 

Crucial quote

“Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space. Mary never accepted the status quo, she helped break barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

Key background

 NASA had already highlighted the women featured in Hidden Figures after the film was released: Another NASA building in Virginia was named after Katherine Johnson, the central character, and Congress in 2019 named a portion of the road in front of the building Hidden Figures Way. That same year, Trump posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal to all the women who inspired Hidden Figures: Jackson, Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Christine Darden.

News peg

Black Lives Matter protests across the U.S. have forced leaders to reckon with racist historical figures celebrated in monuments, statues and names of buildings. The Washington Redskins, for example, announced they would remove founder George Preston Marshall’s name from all team material because he was notorious for opposing integration in the NFL, though the team won’t change its name, which is considered a slur against Native Americans.

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