5 Peninsula places to get your 'Hidden Figures' fix

Jonathan Black
Contact Reporterjoblack@dailypress.com

You can celebrate "Hidden Figures" even after Sunday night's Oscars are over. The annual award show airs at 8:30 p.m. on ABC, and the film, based on the book about African-American women who were mathematicians at NASA Langley, is up for three awards: Best Picture, Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Octavia Spencer) and Best Writing: Adapted Screenplay.

Here are five areas on the Peninsula to celebrate the likes of Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson and the many other women talked about in the movie based on Hampton native Margot Lee Shetterly's book of the same title.

Schools

Mary Jackson wouldn't have become NASA's first black female engineer without Hampton High School. With the encouragement of her boss, Kazimierz Czarnecki, Jackson petitioned the city of Hampton to let her enroll in a University of Virginia night program at the high school so she could become an engineer. At the time, Hampton High was not open to black students. The city granted Jackson permission to attend the engineering classes at Hampton High.

Jackson was a Hampton native and attended George P. Phenix Training School located on the campus of Hampton Institute. She attended the Institute, now known as Hampton University, and graduated in 1942 with degrees in mathematics and physical science.

Downtown Hampton

This area of town has plenty for a "Hidden Figures" buff.

Learn more about NASA and the space program at the Virginia Air and Space Center before walking across the street to Carousel Park. There, a bench was dedicated in August 2016 to honor Katherine Johnson, who still resides in Newport News.

A couple of blocks away, you can check out the Hampton History Museum's latest exhibit, "When the Computer Wore a Skirt: NASA's Human Computers." The exhibit includes a graphic component that tells the story of the human computers at NASA Langley and the specific stories of Johnson, Jackson and Vaughan.

The Virginia Air and Space Center is at 600 Settlers Landing Road in Hampton. More info: vasc.org or 757-727-0900. Hampton History Museum is located at 120 Old Hampton Lane. Visit hamptonhistorymuseum.org or call 757-727-1610 for more information.

Church

Both in the book and in the film, churches play an important role as safe gathering spaces for the black community.

Johnson was a fixture at Newport News' Carver Presbyterian Church, where she sang in the choir for 50 years. The church is located at 830 25th St., Newport News.

Communities

There were a number of neighborhoods in Hampton and Newport News that the women who worked at Langley called home.

One was Aberdeen Gardens, a Depression-era area built "for blacks by blacks," according to Shetterly's book. The community was initiated by Hampton University under the New Deal and is now listed on the National Register for Historic Places.

Vaughan lived in Newsome Park, a Newport News neighborhood that was undergoing renovations as recently as this summer. Johnson first settled in Mimosa Crescent, a World War II neighborhood in Hampton with her first husband until his passing in 1956.

One of the most popular summer destinations for the black community in the time of "Hidden Figures" was Hampton Bay Shore Beach. Now gone, the beach sat adjacent to Buckroe.

NASA Langley

The place that started it all.

The campus is normally closed to the public, but NASA Langley will host an open house this year in honor of its 100th anniversary. The facility will be open Oct. 21 to offer guests a chance to see some of its inner workings.

Inside the Langley campus is a 40,000-square-foot research space named the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility. Last year, it was named for Johnson, who is most noted for working on John Glenn's flight plan.

More info: nasa.gov/langley.

Black can be reached by phone at 757-247-4607.

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