Virginia School Ditches Confederate Soldier and is Now Renamed After Black NASA Pioneer Katherine Johnson

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A Virginia middle school, which was once named after a Confederate soldier, officially has been renamed to honor Black NASA research mathematician Katherine Johnson.

Virginia’s Fairfax school had been called Sidney Lanier Middle School for six decades. Lanier, often referred to as Georgia’s first “national” poet, served as a private in the Confederate army.

Last September 2020, the city school board voted to get ditch the Lanier name after facing mounting pressure from local residents. It was one of four schools the school district resolved to find new names for whose namesakes are tied to the Confederacy or segregation.

In November 2020, the district approved renaming the school after Johnson. More than 300 names had been submitted for consideration.

“We’re elated that they’ve chosen her names out of so many other names,” Valerie Johnson, Katherine’s niece and a Fairfax County Public Schools math resource specialist, told ABC Washington.

“She had very humble beginnings, she wasn’t a prideful person, and she never really let people know about all her accomplishments. Even as a child, I did not really understand the magnitude of her work, but as I became an adult I learned about her great and important work at NASA and the fact that she really had superpowers, they were passion, perseverance, and courage.”

Johnson was one of four Black women whose hard work helped to pave the way for the first American astronaut to orbit Earth. She also handled the calculations for the Apollo moon missions. Her story was portrayed in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures,” where Taraji P. Henson played her.

In 2019, President Donald Trump signed the “Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act” into law, awarding Congressional gold medals to Johnson and Dr. Christine Darden and posthumous Congressional gold medals to Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. It is the highest civilian award in the United States.

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