Have you ever stood up for someone? Hopefully, your answer is yes. Everyone gets so many opportunities to stand up for themselves, their friend, what they believe in, or even just their opinions on the rainbow, but not many people actually take the chance to do it. That’s why it is so important for us to remember those who actually do take risks for themselves or others. One of those people is mathematician and aerospace engineer Mary Winston-Jackson, who stood up for female African Americans that worked with her at NACA and NASA.
In 1951, 30 year old Mary Jackson got a job for NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics). She worked in the West Area Computing Unit, which was made entirely of female African American mathematicians. Her supervisor was Dorothy Vaughan.Although the company they worked for claimed that they had equal rights for everyone, the white people and black people had separate bathroom facilities and ate separately, with the whites having a better cafeteria and more food options. This was Mary’s first taste of discrimination in the workplace, and it was stifling. While employed at NACA, Mary worked with Dorothy Vaughan to fight against the unfair conditions that they came face to face with every day.
In 1953, after working with the terrible “separate and unequal” accommodations, Mary was considering resigning. She had grown up in these horrible conditions, and she was tired of all the unfair advantages that the white people had. But then, she had a chance meeting with an engineer named Kazimierz Czarnecki. After hearing Mary’s complaints, he offered her a job to work with him in a wind tunnel at NASA. She took the job and got lots of hands-on experience working in a four foot by four foot Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. Her job was to conduct experiments in the tunnel to help the engineers create the rocket ships for the Space Race. After seeing how smart and useful Mary could be if she only had the right training, Czarnecki suggested that she take courses to become an engineer. Despite having to find a way into a segregated school, she never gave up on the idea.
She completed the courses at Hampton High School and became the first female African American engineer to work for NASA in 1958, ultimately helping to send the first astronauts into space. For 20 years, she had a great engineering career, filled with excellent research reports and promotions. Her life was going great, and she was making good money. But after that, she stopped getting as many opportunities to excel, and became immensely frustrated. She was denied management-level positions because those jobs were “reserved” for white men. She began to feel the same way she had in the beginning, like there was nothing she could do to make people understand that her skin color and gender were not her defining qualities. She felt like she wasn’t being as successful in getting her message of equality across. It was a good thing she started feeling sorry for herself, because this led her to think about all the other people like her.
She began to feel bad for the ones who never got the chance to go to school, become an engineer, and have a prosperous period of growth and promotions. She also realized how lucky she was to be where she was, and not back in the West Area Computing Unit with her friends. This thinking was what gave her the idea for what she did next. In 1979, she decided that instead of feeling useless and unnoticed, she could find a way to help other African American women get the same chance she got. She knew that they deserved the opportunity to be discovered just as much as she had when she was in their position. She took a demotion and did just that. Mary gave up engineering to become an equal opportunity specialist at NASA. She helped many women and other minorities get the recognition they deserved, and helped many of them get promotions and supervisor positions.
She continued helping others through her work until 1985, when she retired from NASA. As you can see from the story of Mary Winston- Jackson, one person can do a lot to help others. If it weren’t for her, many people who didn’t have the same advantages as others might not have ever gotten the well paying jobs they deserved. To many people, Mary Jackson was a hero; the reason they had enough money to provide for their families, and maybe a little to spoil themselves every now and then.
She sacrificed her job to help others get a better life, and not many of us are able to say that they would have done the same. I would have probably just kept the job that I had earned, especially since I worked so hard to get there in the first place. Sadly, that’s what a lot of us would’ve done if we were in her position. Luckily, it was Mary, an excellent upstander that will be remembered forever.