For day 6 of our Black History Month celebration we recognize: Annie Easley!
Annie Easley was an African American mathematician, “human computer,” and became one of the first African-American female computer programmers at NASA.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama on April 23, 1933, Easley would become an inspiration and champion for women and people of color in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Easley began her career as a “human computer” in 1955 when she read about twin “human computers” working at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). When Easley was first hired, she was one of four African Americans working at The Lab.
“I just have my own attitude. I’m out here to get the job done, and I knew I had the ability to do it, and that’s where my focus was.”
“My head is not in the sand. But my thing is, if I can’t work with you, I will work around you. I was not about to be [so] discouraged that I’d walk away. That may be a solution for some people, but it’s not mine.”Annie Easley 2001 Interview
As a human computer, Easley analyzed programs and performed calculations by hand for researchers. When machines began to replace human computers, Easley modified her skillset. She learned computer programming languages such as FORTRAN as well as code. She began developing and implementing code which would be used in researching battery technology for early hybrid vehicles and the Centaur launch system.
Aside from performing calculations and computations, Easley was also an advocate for the rights of those often discriminated against. Easley served as an equal employment opportunity counselor where she helped supervisors address gender, race, and age related discrimination.
In 1989, Easley retired, but remained active in her outreach programs and activities such as the Business & Professional Women’s association, and the Speaker’s Bureau where she inspired minority students to consider pursuing careers in the STEM field.
On June 25, 2011, Easley passed away. Her contributions and work at NASA has inspired many women and people of color to pursue careers in STEM. Though it was not Easley’s goal to be a role model, she ultimately became one, leading the way for diversification in STEM.