Hidden Figures

Remembering Mrs. Johnson, honoring Mrs. Richie.

Pioneering mathematician Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson passed away today at the age of 101. Mrs. Johnson’s calculations of orbital mechanics were vital to the success of the United States’ first manned space flights.

Wilson County’s own Christine Barnes Richie also worked as a “human computer” for NASA’s predecessor in the 1950s. In 2019, Mrs. Richie was selected as one of two inaugural recipients of the Salem College Trailblazer Award. Her taped acceptance speech was aired at Salem College’s 2019 commencement ceremony.

Many thanks to Patricia Freeman for sharing.

Wilson’s hidden figure.

On 15 January 2017, the Wilson Times published an article about a Wilson-born woman with ties to “Hidden Figures,” the Hollywood blockbuster shining the spotlight on three black women who worked as “human computers” in NASA’s space program. 

Though Christine Barnes Richie is not a title character in the film, she was among the mathematicians Margot Lee Shetterly interviewed for the book upon which the movie is based. Richie is the daughter of McKinley and Hagar Hagans Barnes.


McKinley Barnes, 21, of Taylor township, son of Lovett Barnes and Lucy Wells married Hagar Hagans, 17, daughter of James and Hannah Hagans, on 11 January 1930 in Wilson, Wilson County.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 319 North Hackney, lumber mill laborer Frank Harris, 35, wife Mamie, 33, and son Frank Jr., 2, with farm laborer McKinley Barnes, 21, and wife Hagar, 16.

In the 1940 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: McKinley Barnes, 32, wife Heggar, 26, and children Christine, 8, Katherine, 7, and Ruby, 1, niece Lizzy Mae Barnes, 20, and mother Lucy Barnes, 59.