Annie Easley was a prominent 20th Century computer and rocket scientist. Her career at both NACA and NASA, where she simultaneously continued her education, is beyond impressive. Most notably, she contributed to research that was crucial in modernizing space flight.
Easley was born in Birmingham, Alabama. After studying for two years in New Orleans, she returned to Alabama, where she helped fellow African Americans study for the literacy test, which they were required to pass in order to vote due to the imposition of strict Jim Crow laws at the time. Engadget published a great profile of her last year.
Back in 2001, Sandra Johnson interviewed Easley. You can read the whole thing here via NASA.
(image via engadget)
Johnson: That’s great. Were you good at math in high school? Was that something you were interested in?
Easley: It was easy for me, but at the time I gave no thoughts ever to being a mathematician or going into math. I could do the problems, I could do all the homework. I didn’t not have any problems with high school, but it was just not something I gave—my focus at the time had gone, as I say, from the little girl, the nursing bit, to the pharmacy bit. And maybe there was just that little bit of, it’s still a helping-type thing. You know, the nurse would help, or the pharmacist is going to fill a prescription and make people better. So that may have been in the back of my mind, not the conscious mind, but in the back there.
No, the math was never a problem for me. I felt fortunate that school was fun for me, and I’m going to throw this in. This is my feeling now, and you can delete it if you want. I thoroughly enjoyed school. I looked forward to school opening up. When I hear these—I don’t know why we have such a negative connotation for school. We hear the media saying, “Oh, school’s going to open. Oh, poor kids, you’ve got to go back to school.” I don’t know why we can’t be more positive about it. My experiences throughout school were always great.
My mom—again, I went to—she put me in a parochial school in the fifth grade. It was her way of thinking, you can get a little better education there, so she did everything she could to encourage me. So I did go, from the fifth grade through high school, I was in a parochial school. I was valedictorian of my graduating class. All of this made her very happy.