Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA with Dr. Duchess Harris, JD, PhD

*Originally released February 2017

In her debut as host of Black Market Reads, Lissa Jones sits down with Macalester College professor and author Duchess Harris to discuss her new book Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA. This might sound familiar to listeners – the stories told in Harris’s book, and stories like them, inspired the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures.

Listen:

Episode 18 – Duchess Harris, JD. PHD with Lissa Jones

Duchess Harris’s grandmother was one of a small group of black women who worked as human computers for NASA in the 1950s, and who have largely been left out space-race narratives–until now.

Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 12.58.55 PMDuchess Harris’s grandmother was one of a small group of black women who worked as human computers for NASA in the 1950s, and who have largely been left out space-race narratives–until now. Inspired by her grandmother’s story, Harris has done extensive research on the circumstances that created an opening for educated black women to play an instrumental role in American space exploration. Lissa speaks with Harris about her research, personal connection to the topic, as well as the importance of exposing these hidden narratives to mainstream historical consciousness, and how American space exploration in the 1950s and 60s sheds light on the disparate opportunities for economic advancement open to black people at that time.

Duchess Harris, JD PHD is the Chair of American Studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. She is the author of four books including, most recently, Black Lives Matter and Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA which inspired the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures.

Learn more about Duchess Harris’s work by visiting her website: www.duchessharris.com

Go Deeper: Additional Materials

Listen: Gil Scott-Heron – Whitey on the Moon (Full text below video)

Lyrics
A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey’s on the moon)
I can’t pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still.
(while Whitey’s on the moon)
The man jus’ upped my rent las’ night.
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon)
No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
I wonder why he’s uppi’ me?
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon?)
I was already payin’ ‘im fifty a week.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Taxes takin’ my whole damn check,
Junkies makin’ me a nervous wreck,
The price of food is goin’ up,
An’ as if all that shit wasn’t enough
A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face an’ arm began to swell.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Was all that money I made las’ year
(for Whitey on the moon?)
How come there ain’t no money here?
(Hm! Whitey’s on the moon)
Y’know I jus’ ’bout had my fill
(of Whitey on the moon)
I think I’ll sen’ these doctor bills,
Airmail special
(to Whitey on the moon)
Songwriters: Gil Scott-Heron
Whitey on the Moon lyrics © Carlin America Inc

Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

Duchess references Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s Never Caught (13:00), listen to Lissa’s interview with Armstrong Dunbar here.

Black Women’s Work and Ida B. Wells (15:30)

Learn more about Ida B. Wells’ contributions from the National Women’s History Museum

American Denial [Film, PBS] (35:50)

Watch a trailer and clips from the PBS Independent Lens Documentary American Denial (2015): (http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/american-denial/)

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