Dr. Gladys Mae West was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame in 2018. She was one of the ‘Hidden Figures’ that was responsible for the development of the Global Positioning System (GPS) and the space program.
When she tells her story, she realized early on, that she didn’t want to work in the Virginia tobacco fields or the factory like the rest of the family. So when she heard that the top two high school students would receive a full-ride scholarship to college, she got busy. As a results, she graduated as the 1948 class valedictorian. She chose to major in math at Virginia State University, the first fully-supported state university of higher learning for Black students.
In 1956 she got a job with the Naval Proving Ground ( now called The Navel Surface Warfare Center). She worked for the Naval Center for 42 years and retired in 1998. Navy Captain Godfrey Weekes, Commander of the Naval Surface Center, Dahlgren Division said that she rose through the ranks but had no idea that her would have such an impact on the world. She put her head down and continued to do the work.
She was also honored by the State of Virginia for her contribution. She was accompanied by her family. Her contributions to GPS were only uncovered when a member of West’s sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, read a short biography West had submitted for an alumni function.
Women are an integral part of American history, even Black women. Now because of films like Hidden Figures their stories are being told.
The information is available because of the internet but you must ‘selectively search’ for it. Now you can hear from women who are making history. When you learn the all of the history then you get a better appreciation. Katherine Johnson who recently passes at 101 years said that we must search until we find what we need.