Caitlin Tan Published

Katherine Johnson: W.Va.'s NASA Extraordinaire Dies


The West Virginia woman behind much of NASA’s 20th century space accomplishments died Monday at 101 years old. 

As an African American woman, Katherine Johnson paved the way for many black, female aerospace workers. In her 33 years at NASA, she helped calculate flight paths by hand for America’s first space mission, as well as the first moon landing. 

Johnson was the inspiration for the book and Oscar-nominated film ‘Hidden Figures.’

She grew up in White Sulphur Springs, which was at that time segregated. Black women couldn’t go to school past the eighth grade; however, Johnson finished high school by traveling 130 miles for better education.

She went on to become the point woman for space calculations in NASA’s early years. She was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

In response to her death, the West Virginia Legislature held a moment of silence Monday. After, democratic lawmakers attempted to revive the “Katherine Johnson Fair Pay Act,” a bill that would have helped West Virginia women negotiate fair and equal pay in the workforce. 

“In honor of the great West Virginian and American hero, Mrs. Katherine Johnson, who died today, I’d like to make a motion to discharge House Bill 4885, which is the Katherine Johnson Fair Pay Act, from the Judiciary Committee, which died on Friday,” Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, Cabell County Democrat, said. 

If passed, the bill would have made it an unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer to prohibit or retaliate against an employee for disclosing his or her own wages or discussing or inquiring about other employees’ wages. Additionaly, it would have limited employers’ inquiry into a job applicant’s wage and salary history.  

Hornbuckle requested the full House revive the Fair Pay Act, which was never considered in its assigned committee. 

Hornbuckle’s request failed 58 to 40. In the Senate, a similar request from Bob Beach, Monongalia County Democrat, failed 12 to 21. 

**Correction 2/24/20: A previous version did not include the extensive details of House Bill 4885.