Hidden Figures -Reader’s Guide

Reading Hidden Figures was a journey in time which carried me back to a point when I recall the discrimination in society and therefore bleeding into my personal life. Please know that I have used the term ‘black’ and ‘white’ as the author chose these terms in her narrative. This is phenomenal piece of literature which opened a new door of understanding in the role of women and blacks in the space race. It was a great read!

Hidden Figures
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“The #1 New York Times bestseller

The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner.

Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens.

Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future” (Amazon summary).

 

Prologue:

  • Why do you think the percentage of black American engineers only grew by 1% in 14 years?
  • How does curiosity become an all-consuming fire?

Chapter 1: A Door Opens

  • How does the author set the scene for the book?
  • How are civil rights linked to economic rights?

Chapter 2: Mobilization

  • How did the pay of the laundry war worker compare to the national average at the time?
  • How did education direct social movement?
  • How did Dorothy give up her pride and career for her family?
  • How did the Depression alter value of those who endured it?

Chapter 3: Past is Prologue

  • How/why do parents hope for more for their children than themselves?
  • How did Dorothy use experimental learning with her students?
  • What education opportunities were available to Dorothy and Katherine that probably weren’t available to others? Black or white?
Calais
Looking for another good read? Try this … Click on image.

Chapter 4: The Double V

  • How would Dorothy feel like and immigrant?
  • What would be the consequence of a booming population?
  • How would segregation law exasperate social disharmony for all races?
  • How would blacks be torn asunder by being asked to sacrifice their lives in the war during a tie of segregation at home?
  • What did the Double V signify?

Chapter 5: Manifest Destiny

  • How does the author’s description of Dorothy’s new workspace paint a scene?
  • What value would teaching experience add for these positions?
  • How did favoritism add to the job responsibilities?
  • How did the sign “Colored Computers” remind workers of their societal status?
  • What is the interaction between federal laws, state laws and segregation?

Chapter 6: Warbirds

  • How is experience an education?
  • What is the relationship between mathematics and aerodynamics?
  • What doors of opportunity did this open for colored computers?
  • How did engineers take credit for the mathematicians?

Chapter 7: Duration

  • How would Dorothy feel having her name on the lease?
  • How did the end of the war impact commerce?
  • How did WWII contribute to woman’s suffrage?

Chapter 8: Those Who Move Forward

  • How would pay equalization change the fabric of the job market and economy?
  • Having libraries, museums and laboratories closed to them, how did black of this era seek out education opportunities outside of the classroom?

Chapter 9: Breaking Barriers

  • What emotional freedoms were offered by not having segregation signs?
  • How did the organization of the A.F. solidify the careers of these women?
  • How did their unique and valuable knowledge plus education provide employment security?
  • What would recognition in print have mean tot these women?

Chapter 10: Home By Sea

  • What was the Hampton idea? How did it compare to the America dream?
  • How did Mary’s family motto mold her life?
  • How did Mary Jackson raise the expectations for herself and others?

Chapter 11: The Area Rule

  • How did racial boundaries impact the daily life of black Americans?
  • How did Mary’s actions demonstrate the integrity in her character?
  • Why would James Williams be wary of moving south of the Mason-Dixon line?
  • What would John Becker’s apology mean to Mary?

Chapter 12: Serendipity

  • What hope would Eric’s job offer bring Katherine?
  • What was Katherine’s dormant ambition?
  • How would socio-economical status of Katherine’s family change with the new income?
  • How did Langley challenge caste rules?

Chapter 13: Turbulence

  • How did Katherine’s insatiable curiosity lead her career?
  • Compare and contrast the wake of a plane to the wake of a boat.
  • What does enthusiasm for one’s work do for one’s career?
  • How did Jimmy’s death reinforce Katherine’s sense of community?

Chapter 14: Angle of Attack

  • How would an electronic calculator change the role of the computers at Langley?
  • What is the correlation between adaptation and career longevity?
  • What did the end of segregation mean for “blacks” and “whites?”
  • How could a mentor propel one’s career? Is it the same today? Why/why not?

Chapter 15: Young, Gifted, and Black

  • How did the social events around the country impact Langley?
  • How did the space race with the Soviet Union take the highlight off of the segregation issues? Did it?
  • How did the space race unify a nation?
  • How would integration cause fear for all races?
  • How did Christine’s father develop and encourage her curiosity and lifelong learning?

Chapter 16: What a Difference a Day Makes

  • How did the US’s tardiness in the space race bridge races at Langley?
  • How is expertise in a field still a necessity in a career?
  • What glass ceiling existed for the west computers?

Chapter 17: Outer Space

  • How is humanity driven by curiosity?
  • What would be the result today if someone stated that girls don’t go to meetings?
  • How are male and female roles similar and dissimilar in today’s workplace?

Chapter 18: With All Deliberate Speed

  • How essential would it be for Katherine to find someone who understood her devotion to her job?
  • How and why did the space race change Langley’s work environment?

Chapter 19: Model Behavior

  • How did the space race compare and contrast to the derby?
  • How does the soap box derby compare and contrast to today’s pinewood derby in scouting?
  • Compare and contrast the discrimination of women to the segregation of the races.
  • What would it have been like to have Mary advocating for someone?

Chapter 20: Degree of Freedom

  • How could the lost generation recover their lost educational opportunity?
  • What would it mean to Virginia to be included on the list of places not to provide a free education? How does this lack of education promote the case system?

Chapter 21: Out of the Past, the Future

  • Why was perfection needed in the equations for space travel?
  • How did hard work propel the American space dream?
  • Why did the black scientist remain out of sight, behind the cameras?
  • What would have been the trajectory of the space program if it had been riddled with human mathematical errors?

Chapter 22: America is for Everybody

  • How did NASA propaganda impact segregation in the 1960s?
  • How did Mary’s welcoming for fellow employees continue throughout her career?
  • How did Katherine’s career consume her life?

Chapter 23: To Boldly Go

  • How does a shared purpose create a community and bond which surpasses race?
  • How did the moon walk help to solidify a nation divided by race?
  • Is there something similar to the space race which could solidify our nation today?

 

By Tracy Atkinson

Tracy Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education and a master’s in higher education. Her passion is researching, studying and investigating the attributes related to self-directed learners. She has published several titles, including The Art of Learning Journals, Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the mid-west with her husband. She loved storytelling and sharing her stories with her children. As they grew, she started writing her stories down for them. She is a teacher, having taught from elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, masters in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. Her husband, Kerry and Tracy breed miniature dachshunds and love to spend time with their growing family. She has published several books including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Rachel's 8 and Securing Your Tent.