Virginia middle school renamed after NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson
Another honor was bestowed on legendary NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson this month as Sydney Lanier Middle School in Fairfax, Virginia, was officially changed to Katherine Johnson Middle School on June 4, 2021.
Johnson worked for NASA for 33 years as a mathematician where she played a vital role with her projections and calculations of orbital mechanics. Her research ended up providing critical information needed for astronaut John Glenn to become the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962. Actress Taraji P. Henson portrayed Johnson in the 2016 film Hidden Figures, which told her story as well as that of fellow math scholars Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan.
The school bore Lanier’s name for nearly six decades before the district decided to re-examine the decision. Lanier was a musician and author who had ties to the Confederacy during the Civil War, which led to the push.
According to KTVU Fox 2 News, the school board spent three months last year taking polls and found 86% of the city wanted Lanier’s name removed from the school. The school board voted on the change last September and took into consideration more than 300 names, including poet Maya Angelou’s. In the end, they went with Johnson.
“Her contributions continued to serve the nation and helped ensure that the ‘Eagle had landed and landed safely. So, I think it appropriate that the name Katherine Johnson for our middle school will inspire new generations of ‘Eagles’ for our community, and I look forward to watching them fly,” school board member Jon Buttram told the station.
Johnson also was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2015. She died last year on Feb. 24 at the age of 103. Global aerospace and defense technology giant Northrop Grumman named a spacecraft after Johnson in February as well.
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