June 13, 2018 -Margot Lee Shetterly, author of “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Storyof the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race,” was presented with the city’s Distinguished Citizen Medal Wednesday. The best-selling book and the movie based on it drew national attention to an important chapter of Hampton’s history.
Established in 1964, the medal is Hampton’s version of a key to the city, and has been given less than three dozentimes.
The Hampton native’s non-fiction book tells the story of the black women who played significant roles in Americans getting into orbit and to the moon. These women worked as human computers for NASA (and its predecessor,the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), crunching numbers long before the computer was invented.
The Fox film “Hidden Figures” was based on several ofthe main women in the book but is a more fictionalized account. The movie,starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe and Kevin Costner, grossed $236 million, earned three Oscar nominations and was named one of the top ten films of 2016 by the National Board of Review.
Both the movie and the book drew the attention of millions of people to the story of Hampton’s NASA Langley Research Center and groundbreaking contributions by many local residents.
Shetterly founded The Human Computer Project, an endeavor that is recovering the names and accomplishments of all of the women who worked as computers, mathematicians, scientists and engineers at NACA and NASA from the 1930s through the 1980s. She is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow, the recipient of a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities grant for her research on women in computing, and the 2018 recipient of the Space Foundation's Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award.Shetterly is a graduate of Phoebus High School and the University ofVirginia.
She currently lives in Charlottesville.