It’s 1956. Mary Jackson is a computer at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. She wants to continue her education and get an engineering degree. Good news: The University of Virginia offers engineering courses at a local high school – Hampton High. Bad news: Hampton High is for whites only. Ms. Jackson has to petition the City of Hampton to get special permission to take the classes.
Going into the school for the first time, Mary Jackson makes a shocking discovery…
Hampton High School was a dilapidated, musty old building.
A stunned Mary Jackson wondered: was this what she and the rest of the black children in the city had been denied all these years? This rundown, antiquated place? She had just assumed that if whites had worked so hard to deny her admission to the school, it must have been a wonderland. But this? Why not combine the resources to build a beautiful school for both black and white students? Throughout the South, municipalities maintained two parallel inefficient school systems, which gave the short end of the stick to the poorest whites as well as blacks. The cruelty of racial prejudice was so often accompanied by absurdity, a tangle of arbitrary rules and distinctions that subverted the shared interest of people who had been taught to see themselves as irreconcilably different.
–Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, p 145