Marjorie Day has earned a reputation around Greenport for her Black History Month events that focus on unsung African-American legends.
In one she did in February 2015 at the Peconic Landing Community Center, she revealed three important African-American jazz musicians. Last year, she spotlighted three black opera singers. And on Saturday, she continued the tradition by focusing on three black women scientists and mathematicians.
Before a crowd of about 50, Day told the stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, all NASA employees who helped America send its first astronaut into space.
Day said she organized Saturday’s event because she “read about them and just decided to put this together.”
Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson have gained fame since the current release of “Hidden Figures,” a movie that explores the trio’s work at NASA. Vaughan became the space agency’s first black female supervisor; Jackson became its first black female engineer, and Johnson performed complex calculations for the launch and landing points of America’s first space orbit by John Glenn in 1962.
Day told the crowd that these women were amazing mathematicians who split their lives between being homemakers and pivotal scientists for NASA.
Day showed the crowd at the event a 2016 interview with Margot Lee Shetterly, who wrote the 2016 book “Hidden Figures.” Shetterly is a Virginia native whose father was a NASA researcher.
In the interview, Shetterly explained the wider historical context that landed Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson jobs at NASA.
Between 1943 and 1980 about 80 black women worked for NASA between its main office in Virginia and a Cleveland location. The women were former math teachers hired to do complex calculations that would make military aircraft fly farther, faster and more efficiently, the author said.
“Most of them spent their entire careers doing this type of work,” Shetterly said.
The “Hidden Figures” movie has won more than 20 awards, including one from the Screen Actors Guild, and is nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture.
After the interview, Day told the crowd that the NASA women are part of a longer list of black women who have excelled in math and science. Others include Mae C. Jemison, Vivienne Malone-Mayes and Shirley Ann Jackson, Day said.
Adele Schlapik of Greenport, who attended Saturday’s event, said she always enjoys Day’s black history events. Although other people help Day, she is the real reason people are learning about black history, Schlapik said.
“She is a motivational force,” Schlapik said. “Whenever she wants to do something, she just gets it done.”