ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - Duchess Harris is a professor at Macalester College and never had the chance to meet her late grandmother. Still, she has always considered Miriam Mann an inspiration.
“I'm proud of her, I'm named after her,” Harris said.
Raising her family in Virginia with a degree in chemistry, Mann went from a predominately black college in the segregated south to working for NASA from 1943-1966.
“When we went to war, WWII, the only people that worked at NASA were white men. They turned to white women and they ran out, there weren't enough,” Harris said. “They went over to the Hampton and said, 'are there any black women who have enough education to do this work?' My grandmother was in the very first group which was 11 women.”
The movie "Hidden Figures" highlights the human computers doing the math behind the scenes during the 1960s space race to get a man into orbit.
“They were hidden because it was against the law and, of course, NASA is a federal entity. They didn't want the nation to know they weren't in compliance, but they weren't in compliance because they wanted to beat Russia so badly.”
Harris was awarded a grant to research the so-called human computers in 2014 along with the author who wrote the book on which the new movie is based. Now Harris has her own book aimed at grade levels 6-12.
The first book-signing will take place at Showplace Icon Theater at West End on Monday night. A screening of the movie sold out as a fundraiser for the Minneapolis St. Paul chapter of The Links Incorporated. The group is dedicated to inspiring young African American women to pursue STEM careers.
Cynthia Reese brought her 9 year old daughter.
“I wanted her to see the movie because girls can do anything, and I want her to see girls that look like her that are doing exactly what they want to do,” says Reese
“Black women can be everywhere and achieve many things," Harris said. “People just need to see us.”