Those Who Move Forward – Summary

In Chapter 8, we learn about Katherine Goble, who would have eventually returned to teaching but her husband fell ill with undulant fever in 1944, and she took over his teaching contract instead. This was her second time teaching at the school, having previously worked there in 1937 for two years earning less than similarly trained white teachers. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against Virginia for unequal pay for black teachers, and although the case was won, it was a year too late for Katherine, who had already taken a higher paying job in West Virginia. Katherine always identified as being from West Virginia because it offered more breathing room for its small black population compared to Virginia. She was born and raised in White Sulphur Springs, and her father instilled in her and her siblings the belief that nobody was better than anyone else.


The chapter describes Katherine’s early life and education, and how her family moved to town and her father started working as a bellman at the Greenbrier to support the family and cover the cost of their education. Katherine and her siblings worked at the hotel during summers, with Katherine impressing guests with her language skills and charisma. One summer, she worked at the hotel’s lobby antiques store and taught Roman numerals to a well-known lawyer, Henry Waters Taft.


The chapter also describes Katherine Johnson’s college education at West Virginia State College in the 1930s, where she excelled in mathematics under the tutelage of Dr. William Waldron Schieffelin Claytor. Despite the challenges of being a Black woman in a male-dominated field, Claytor encouraged her to pursue a career in mathematical research, even though the prospects for a Black woman in this field were dismal at the time. Claytor himself had trouble finding a job in the mathematical world and was relegated to teaching at West Virginia State College. Johnson met and married Jimmy Goble, a Marion native, during her time at the college.


Katherine enrolled in West Virginia University’s summer session in 1940 and was accompanied by her mother for support. She was the only Black woman in the math department and received a warm welcome from most of the white students. Katherine excelled academically but had to drop out of graduate school after becoming pregnant. Despite giving up a promising academic career, Katherine did not regret her decision to prioritize her family. Meanwhile, female research mathematicians like Dorothy Vaughan were proving their worth and would soon become a powerful force in American aeronautics.


Active Themes:

Racism and Inequality:


      • Katherine faced discrimination and racism as a Black woman in a predominantly white school and field of study.

      • Despite this, she was able to excel academically and gain the respect of her professors and classmates.

      • Her experience highlights the systemic racism and inequality that existed (and still exists) in academia and society at large.



        • Katherine’s mother moved to Morgantown to support her daughter during her first days at the white school, showing the importance of family and community support.

        • Most of the white students at West Virginia University gave Katherine a cordial welcome and some went out of their way to be friendly, highlighting the positive impact of inclusive and welcoming communities.

      • Katherine’s mentor, William Waldron Schieffelin Claytor, played a crucial role in supporting her academic and professional development, demonstrating the importance of mentorship and community in achieving success.

      Luck, Persistent Action, and Hard Work:


          • Katherine’s enrollment at West Virginia University was due to a combination of luck and persistent action by her family and community, who recognized her talent and pushed her to pursue higher education.

          • Katherine’s academic success was the result of both her innate talent and her hard work and dedication to her studies.

          • Despite facing numerous obstacles and setbacks throughout her career, Katherine’s perseverance and determination allowed her to overcome these challenges and achieve success.

        Scientific Progress vs. Social and Political Progress:


            • Katherine’s work as a mathematician and computer at NASA contributed to scientific progress and advancements in the field of aeronautics.

          • However, her experience also highlighted the social and political barriers that existed for Black women in the workplace, and the need for social and political progress to achieve true equality and opportunity for all individuals.



              1. Describe Katherine Goble: where is she from? What is she like? In what ways are she and Dorothy Vaughan similar?


            Katherine Goble, later Katherine Johnson is born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, in 1918. She is a brilliant student who enrolled in West Virginia University’s summer session in 1940. She is African-American and had to overcome racial barriers to attend a predominantly white university. Katherine is a brilliant mathematician who excelled in her studies and met the academic standard at the university. She is married to Jimmy and has three daughters whom she adores.

            Katherine and Dorothy Vaughan are similar in that they are both African-American women who excelled in mathematics. While Katherine pursued her academic studies at a university, Dorothy Vaughan became a research mathematician in Hampton, Virginia, along with many other former schoolteachers. Both women prove that African-American women can excel in mathematics, despite the barriers they face.


            2. Who is William Waldron Schieffelin Claytor? How did he influence Katherine?

            William Waldron Schieffelin Claytor was a mathematics professor at West Virginia State College who greatly influenced Katherine Johnson. He recognized her exceptional talent and provided her with challenging coursework and mentorship. He also encouraged her to pursue graduate studies at a time when it was rare for African American women to do so. Claytor’s rigorous training helped Katherine Johnson develop the analytical and problem-solving skills that she would later use as a NASA mathematician. Despite encountering racism and discrimination, Katherine continued to credit Claytor as one of the most important influences in her life.


            3. What are the circumstances leading to Katherine’s enrollment at West Virginia University? What was her time at West Virginia like?

            Katherine’s high school teacher encouraged her to apply to West Virginia State College, which she attended for two years. She then transferred to West Virginia University’s graduate mathematics program, where she was one of three black students. During her time there, her mother moved to Morgantown to live with her, and most of the white students were cordial to her, and some even went out of their way to be friendly. The professors treated her fairly, and she excelled academically. The biggest challenge she faced was finding a course that didn’t duplicate Dr. Claytor’s meticulous tutelage. At the end of the summer session, she discovered that she was pregnant with her first child, which made finishing the program impossible. Though she left graduate school, she never once regretted her decision to exchange the high-profile academic opportunity for domestic life.


            4. What is meant by the title of the chapter, ‘Those who move forward’?

            The title “Those who move forward” refers to the individuals who continue to progress and advance despite facing obstacles such as racism and discrimination. In the above texts, the chapter title represents the determination and perseverance of individuals like Katherine Goble, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who pursued their passions and careers in mathematics and science, even though they faced significant challenges due to their race and gender. The chapter title implies that progress is made by those who do not let obstacles hinder their advancement, and who continue to push forward towards their goals.


            Names mentioned in Chapter 8:


                1. Katherine Goble Johnson – The main protagonist of the story and an African-American mathematician. She worked for NASA and played a vital role in many of the agency’s historic achievements.

                1. William Waldron Schieffelin Claytor – Katherine’s mentor and math professor at West Virginia State College. He recognized her talent and encouraged her to pursue a career in mathematics.

                1. Dorothy Vaughan – An African-American mathematician who worked at NASA during the space race. She was one of the first black supervisors at the agency.

                1. Mary Jackson – An African-American mathematician and aerospace engineer who worked at NASA during the space race. She was the first black female engineer at the agency.

                1. Langley Research Center – A facility located in Hampton, Virginia, where Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary worked. The center was operated by NASA and played a critical role in the agency’s space missions.

                1. West Virginia University – The institution where Katherine enrolled for the summer session to study mathematics.

                1. Jimmy Johnson – Katherine’s husband and father of their three daughters.

                1. Joylette Coleman – Katherine’s oldest daughter.

                1. Joshua Coleman – Katherine’s father, a farmer and teacher who instilled a love for education in his children.

                1. Margery Hannah – A friend of Katherine’s and the first white female to attend the same school as her in West Virginia

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