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Phil Kadner: ‘Hidden Figures’ now American legends

Actors Kimberly Quinn, Kirsten Dunst, Octavia Spencer, Saniyya Sidney, Taraji P. Henson, and Janelle Monael, co-recipients of the Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture award for 'Hidden Figures,' pose in the press room during the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Expo Hall on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

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In the darkest of times, despite incredible odds, there are human beings who find a way to remind the rest of us there is always hope for those who will not give in to hatred.

I was reminded of that recently in a movie theater while watching “Hidden Figures,” a true story about three black women who worked at NASA during the the early days of the space program and whose math skills helped launch the first astronauts into orbit.

OPINION

Follow @csteditorialsThis occurred at a time when there were still “whites-only” washrooms, blacks had to sit in the back of the bus and colleagues (even at NASA) refused to drink out of the same coffee pots as people of color.

Women were treated as mentally inferior, emotionally unstable and deemed incapable of handling responsibility in a business environment by men.

Black women had it worse.

Yet Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, the heroines of “Hidden Figures,” refused to let the intolerance, pettiness and ignorance of others cripple them. They used their intellect, faith and courage to achieve success while those with far greater advantages failed.

This is a story of real patriotism, about the stuff that makes nations great and the human spirit soar. It is America at its best, at its worst and (if you watch closely) as it is today.

As I marveled at the achievements of the women in this movie, I couldn’t help but think this was an era that many of our countrymen romanticize as perhaps the best in American history.

It’s the time of “Happy Days,” when employment was high, business was booming and the Greatest Generation reigned.

But seeing that period through the eyes of Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson, I was reminded that it was not the best of times for many and long before President Donald Trump there were people who marked others as “winners” and “losers,” oblivious to the fact their evaluations were dead wrong.

But this isn’t just a story about bigotry and the success of a few women.

It’s also the story of the space program, how people working together for the betterment of mankind can become better themselves and how the kindness of a few can stand out among the evil of the many.

Astronaut John Glenn is a hero here not because he became the first American to orbit the Earth, but because with black and white NASA workers segregated he crossed the divide to shake hands and later acknowledged the abilities of Johnson.

Before he would approve his space launch, Glenn told NASA officials that he didn’t trust the IBM computer’s calculations for his orbital flight, and “to get the girl,” meaning Johnson.

“If she says (the numbers are) good, I’m ready to go,” Glenn said, according to NASA’s Web site.

For more than 30 years Johnson worked at NASA’s Langley Research Facility in Virginia, playing a key role in more than six manned moon landings. Yet, it wasn’t until she turned 98 that she became famous due to a book and movie about her accomplishments.

The human computer, as she was known, was honored by President Barack Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Vaughan worked at Langley for 28 years, becoming the first African-American supervisor at the research center. She taught herself and her staff the computer programming language of FORTRAN and eventually headed the Analysis and Computation Division at the research center.

Jackson, another mathematician, worked at NASA for 34 years and by going to night school eventually earned a degree as an aeronautical engineer, something nearly unheard of at the time for any woman, let alone an African-American.

Americans find themselves in conflict with each other today due to political differences. As anger, frustration and bitterness grow, here is a story with lessons for us all.

Here were three women who rose above their surroundings and were successful largely because they valued education and were capable of independent thought.

Our nation has always been a house divided. It stands tall because of its foundation – extraordinary people who made this country their own.

Email: philkadner@gmail.com

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