Category Archives: African American literature

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterley: A Tale of Race, Discrimination and Achievement in the Modern World

Hidden Figures was a book I discovered after its story had been made into a film. It tells the true-life story of African-American women who worked in aeronautics and their role in helping America win the space race.


Hidden Figures talks about these female mathematicians who worked in a white, male-dominated sector. They faced challenges such as having a segregated bathroom and not being allowed to participate on certain tasks because they were women.

They were pioneers in their field, occupying positions that black women had not previously worked in. In the past, black women with mathematics degrees mainly worked as teachers in underfunded segregated schools. When roles opened for black women at NASA,  it gave black female graduates the chance to work in a different sector and earn more money.

Hidden Figures_mini

These female mathematicians faced challenges such as having a segregated bathroom and not being allowed to participate on certain tasks because they were women. However, with persistence and delivery of excellent work, they were able to progress. There was a particular woman, Katherine Johnson who had asked to participate in editorial meetings. She was told she couldn’t because she was a woman. By persistently questioning this, she was finally allowed to attend. This was in 1958. There’s been a progress in that, sexual discrimination in the workplace is becoming more unacceptable.

The story also explores the social situation in America during the time, Katherine Johnson and her peers were working at NASA. Margot Lee describes this well in this section of the book.

So much money spent so that between 1969 and 1972 a dozen white men could take the express train to a lifeless world? Why, Negro men could barely go to the next state without worrying about predatory police, restaurants that refused to serve them, and service stations that wouldn’t let them buy gas or use the bathroom.

While some were glad that America had made into space, there were difficult conversations being had on how there were no black astronauts at the time. People also challenged the fact that a lot of money was being spent on the space programme while people were poor and dispossessed in the United States. Was this the right way to spend government funds? Although, I felt the good side about the government spending money on the space programme was that it created jobs that helped some black families move up the income ladder.

I enjoyed reading Hidden Figures but I must say some sections were quite technical. There were areas where Margot Lee wrote about the work being carried out in NASA and it was a bit hard for me to follow. Besides that, it was quite readable.

Technology is mainly seen as an industry dominated by men. Reading Hidden Figures helped me realise that women, including black women, made contributions to technology in the middle of the twentieth century and this should be recorded in history.


I would recommend this if you’re looking for something inspiring to read and if you’re interested in the experiences of African-Americans. These female mathematicians worked in challenging circumstances and made a difference in their families and in the workplace.

*I got my copy of Hidden Figures at WhSmith at St Pancras Station. You can get the book on Amazon, Book Depository, Waterstones and WhSmith.