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Tech Titan - Annie Easley

A few years ago, three amazing Black women human computers, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson who were instrumental in the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit in 1962, were celebrated with a movie, Hidden Figures, congressional gold medals and an honorary street name, "Hidden Figures Way" in front of NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Still, there are many Black women who were instrumental in technology that are still a hidden figure. Tech Titan, Annie Easley, is a woman who broke barriers and made a huge impact at NASA.

Annie Easley was born on April 23, 1933, in Birmingham, AL known as "Bombingham" due to the racially motivated bombings of Black homes, businesses, and churches. Easley was born in a single parent household, but there was a lot of love. Her mother was her greatest role model. She encouraged and instilled in Easley "You can be anything you want to be, but you have to work at it." Easley had an older brother, who was six years old than her. Easley was raised alone due to the age gap.

Easley enjoyed going to school. Her favorite subject was Math. From fifth grade to high school, Easley attended a parochial school and graduated from high school as class valedictorian.

Easley worked as a substitute teacher and helped Blacks prepare to take the literacy test to register to vote. There was more than one literacy test in Birmingham, AL. The literacy test was 68 questions and Blacks had 25 minutes to take the test. Unfortunately, many Blacks did not have a quality education and were not allowed to have anyone assist them in taking the test.

Methods that were used to prevent Blacks from voting, they had to guess the number of the following:

Jellybeans in a jar

Cotton balls in a jar

Bubbles on a bar of soap

Marbles in a jar

Bumps on a cucumber

Kernels on a corn cub

Seeds in a watermelon

After graduating from high school, Easley attended Xavier University in Baton Rouge, LA. Easley was told that she should pursue a career as an educator or a nurse. Unfortunately, during that time, those were the only careers for Black women including a domestic worker (maid). Easley wanted to be a pharmacist. Growing up as a little girl, Easley would go to the pharmacy by her childhood home where she would buy candy and ice cream. Easley was fascinated seeing Black professionals wearing white crisp jackets. Not only did Easley liked the professionalism of the pharmacists but the medicine they gave the customers made them feel better.

Easley spent two years at Xavier and met the love of her life, a military man. In 1954, Easley got married and moved to Cleveland, OH. Easley wanted to continue her education in pharmacy. At a nearby university there was no pharmacy program. The closest university that had a pharmacy program was two hours away in Columbus, OH. Easley decided she had to figure out another career path.

Easley was reading a newspaper and read an article about twin sisters who worked at National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics ("NACA") as human computers. The company was hiring human computers and Easley loved math. In 1955, Easley was hired as a human computer performing mathematical calculations at NACA Lewis Research Center. When human computers were replaced by machines, Easley worked as a computer programmer. Out of 25,000 employees, Easley was one of four Blacks that worked at NACA.

There was a time woman were not allowed to wear pants to work. They could wear pants at home, but not to work. NACA did not have a dress code policy. Easley went to her supervisor, a white woman, and told her that she wanted to wear a pant suit to work. Easley's supervisor was in agreement and would wear a pant suit along with Easley. The following day, when Easley and her supervisor walked in NACA wearing pants, it caused a fire storm. Men looked shocked and the women were ecstatic. One woman said to Easley, "I was waiting for this day." Easley was the Shero of the day and a pioneer for women to wear pants to work.

Easley experienced racism working at now known as NASA. Easley was part of NASA's promotional ad for an upcoming open house. The day of the event, Easley was cut out of all the photos. Easley was denied financial aid and wasn't given a reason why. It didn't deter Easley from pursuing her education. In 1977, Easley, using her own money, graduated from Cleveland State University with a B.A. in Mathematics. How Easley dealt with racism, she said "When people have their biases and prejudices, yes, I am aware. 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.”

Easley's contributions in technology included developing and implementing computer code that analyzed alternative power technologies, supported the Centaur high-energy upper rocket stage, determined solar, wind and energy projects, identified energy conversion systems and alternative systems to solve energy problems. Her energy assignments included studies to determine the life use of storage batteries, such as those used in electric utility vehicles. Her computer applications have been used to identify energy conversion systems that offer the improvement over commercially available technologies.

Diversity at NASA was important to Easley. To get more Blacks in the field of technology, Easley, attended college career days and I found out that Easley attended my alma mater, Chicago State University, a predominantly black institution, where NASA held an Aerospace Educational Symposium in 1978 called "Chicago Meets Out of Space." Easley gave a presentation about the benefits from space.

Easley was a EEOC counselor at NASA where she helped address discrimination complaints. Easley wanted to make sure that NASA followed through on the complaints made by employees. The discrimination that Easley endured working at NASA, she wanted to make sure it didn't happen to anyone else.

In 1989, Easley retired from NASA after 34 years of service. Easley enjoyed life like it was golden during her retirement. Easley was the founding member and president of NASA Lewis Ski Club and the Cleveland Metro Ski Club. Easley skied in Canada, Colorado and Europe and was known for wearing the trendiest snow suits. Easley started snowboarding at the age of 70 years old. Easley was an avid runner, tennis player and excelled as a real estate agent. Easley was the life of a party and loved a glass of red wine.

Annie Easley passed away on June 25, 2011. Easley was known as a classy woman. Her personality and contributions to NASA shined throughout the company.

Annie Easley, along with six other women, Gladys West, Jean Jennings Bartik, Betty Holberton, Grace Hopper and Ada Lovelace were recognized with a prototype LEGO set celebrating Women in Computing. Unfortunately, the prototype was not approved for production. In 2015, Easley was inducted into the Glenn Research Center Hall of Fame and on February 1, 2021, a crater on the moon was named after Easley by the International Astronomical Union.

Easley was a pioneer in technology who paved the way for black women, but unfortunately, today there is still an uphill battle for equal pay, leadership and representation. According to an April 2022 online article from Black Women in Tech, 25% of all women working in tech, just 3% of them are Black women. In an interview with Sandra Johnson, Easley stated that working at NASA nothing was given to minorities or women. “It took some fighting to get that equal opportunity and we’re still fighting today. Don't give up on it. Just stick with it. Don't listen to people who always tell you it's hard."

Easley didn't consider herself a role model or trailblazer. She was a woman that went to work and did a job that she loved do. Easley lived her life to the fullest and personified "CARPE DIEM" (seize the day)!!!!!

"It has been a wonderful time to be alive, to see all of the changes that took place in my work life, from where we were to where we went. And to still see changes. I'm just fascinated by all of the changes." - Annie Easley

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1 Comment

Mar 08

Great Post Sis. Keep up the awesome work keeping us informed of all the great accomplishments of African Americans!

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