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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Margot Lee Shetterly of “Hidden Figures” speaks at Texas A&M

Photo by Photo by C. Morgan Engel

Margot Lee Shetterly, “Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race,” came to discuss her book at the 2017 Common Ground Reading Initiative event in Rudder Theatre on Monday night.

On Monday Oct. 2, in Rudder Theater, the College of Liberal Arts hosted Margot Lee Shetterly, author of “Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race” (and executive producer of the resulting box-office hit) at its annual Common Ground Reading Initiative.
The renowned author delivered a speech to a crowd of students, professors and other guests in which she reflected on the unexpected success of her novel and her recently discovered value of history.
“Hidden Figures”, which was soon developed into a blockbuster film and grossed over $231 million, starred award-winning actresses Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe as mathematicians Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson, respectively.
Shetterly expressed her delight with the film’s cinematic storytelling and historical accuracy, even admitting to find herself “sitting on the edge” of her seat as she watched the movie.
“From the opening scenes of the movie until the end credits…I watched the movie as if I had never heard of Katherine Johnson or Dorothy Vaughan or Mary Jackson,” Shetterly said.
Shetterly spent much of her speech highlighting the hidden contributions made by black female NASA mathematicians in the early twentieth-century and analyzing one question in particular.
“Why then, has it taken so long to tell their stories?” Shetterly said. “We could have turned Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden and all of their colleagues into professional role models.”
Shetterly graduated from the University of Virginia in 1991 and originally intended to pursue a career in investment banking. She worked as an investment banker in New York City for approximately five years before moving to Mexico with her husband, Aran where they founded their magazine, Inside Mexico.
Shetterly said that she began to evaluate, in detail, the role that African Americans have played in our country’s extensive history.
She recalled dreading the days in which African American history was covered in her classes and the overwhelming theme of tragedy and oppression highlighted in her school’s textbooks. But more importantly, during these classes, Shetterly realized the true lack of recognition for the historical contributions of black men and women.
“The textbooks offered cursory information about the state of blacks in America,” Shetterly said. “But virtually nothing about black Americans as individuals. What I wanted to know when I was [a student] was, ‘Where were the stories of the protagonists?’”
Shetterly answered this question by conducting her very own research and sharing all of her findings with the rest of the world. In writing her novel, Shetterly said that she saw the contributions of these influential women not only as stories that needed to be told, but as lessons to be learned.
“The secondary narrative of “Hidden Figures” Is all about the transformative power of education and what our society can accomplish when we give all of our citizens access to a quality education” Shetterly said.
Aside from her work with the novel and film, “Hidden Figures”, Shetterly also founded “The Human Computer Project”, a virtual-museum dedicated to honoring the contributions of NASA’s women of color and their shared roles in many groundbreaking space missions.
As her speech neared its end, Shetterly left her audience with a final task: to find the ‘hidden figures’ in each and everyone’s life, learn their stories and share them to inspire a new generation of far reaching Americans.

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