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Hidden Figure: A Virginia School Once Named After a Confederate Soldier to be Renamed After Black NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson

In 2016, Katherine Johnson, the Black NASA mathematician whose effort helped launch astronauts into outer space, was depicted in the Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures.”

More than a year after her death at age 101 in February 2020, a Virginia middle school that once held the name of a confederate soldier will now be renamed in her honor. 

WASHINGTON, DC- NOVEMBER 24: President Barack Obama presents Katherine G. Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the 2015 Presidential Medal Of Freedom Ceremony at the White House on November 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/WireImage)

The Fairfax school had been named after Sidney Lanier, an American poet and a private in the Confederate army, for the past six decades, but in September of last year the city school board decided to change the name following an outcry from local residents.

“Her contributions continued to serve the nation and helped ensure that the ‘Eagle had landed…and landed safely,’” city school board member Jon Buttram said in a statement. “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.” A ceremony for the name change is slated to occur on Friday, June 11, with members of the space pioneer’s family in attendance. Meanwhile, the name Katherine Johnson Middle School will go into effect in July of 2021 before the start of the 2021-2022 school year.

Johnson’s name was one of over 300 names suggested for the change, including Maya Angelou, Fairfax Woods, and Legacy Independence and City.  

Johnson’s family expressed great gratitude for the honor. Valerie Johnson, Katherine’s niece and a Fairfax County Public Schools math resource specialist, told ABC Washington her aunt “had very humble beginnings. She wasn’t a prideful person, and she never really let people know about all her accomplishments.” She added, “Even as a child, I did not really understand the magnitude of her work, but as I became an adult, I learned about her great and important work at NASA and the fact that she really had superpowers: They were passion, perseverance, and courage.”

The announcement comes on the heels of another significant honor from earlier this year. In March, Johnson was announced as one of many, including former first lady Michelle Obama and soccer icon Mia Hamm to be inducted into the 2021 class for the National Women’s Hall of Fame

The National Women’s Hall of Fame was started in 1969 in Seneca Falls, New York, as a way to preserve history by showcasing many women who have made extraordinary contributions to the country. The ceremony is scheduled to take place on Oct. 2.

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