Celebrating the “Hidden Figures” of Black History

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Lori-Ann Harrington
Lori-Ann Harrington serves as Associate General Counsel and Co-leader of the Pentair Black Employee Network


Celebrating the “Hidden Figures” of Black History

BEN Event Blog Post Image with Employees and Dutchess Harris

Black History Month is a time to celebrate diversity and recognize the achievements of Black and African American people and culture in our communities, country and around the world.

Pentair is committed to becoming a more inclusive workplace, and as part of our Black History Month celebration, the Pentair Black Employee Network (BEN) hosted a virtual discussion about the movie “Hidden Figures.” This powerful movie highlights the life of unsung female African American NASA mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.

We were excited to be joined by Professor Duchess Harris, J.D., Ph.D., the granddaughter of another remarkable NASA mathematician, Miriam Daniel Mann, who worked alongside Katherine, Dorothy and Mary. She shared real life stories from her grandmother that are not captured in the movie, her research findings on NASA’s human computers, and how the legacy of these women paved the way for generations to come. Pentair employees got the opportunity to share their thoughts about the movie and ask Professor Harris questions. Among the “hidden” stories she shared:

  • A pivotal scene portrayed in the movie is when the character of Al Harrison, played by Kevin Costner, dramatically removes the “colored” sign for the restroom. In reality, it was Professor Harris’s grandmother that removed this sign, and with little fanfare.
  • The deed to the land for the NASA Langley Research Center shows that it sits on the property of a former plantation. It is incredible to realize that when the Black female mathematicians started their work in the 1940s, it was less than 80 years from when their ancestors would have been slaves on the property. However, as depicted in the movie, it is also important to remember that the work environment was completely segregated, with most white employees unaware that there were Black employees working at the site.
  • By the 1960s, NASA recognized the importance of Black women and men in building their workforce. They hired African American actress Nichelle Nichols, best known for her portrayal of Nyota Uhura in Star Trek, to help with recruitment efforts at Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs).

One of the lasting impacts of “Hidden Figures” is that it not only educates everyone on the significant contributions of Black and African American NASA mathematicians, but it also provides representation and validation for Black and African American individuals with careers in STEM-related fields, including those working here at Pentair.

In honor of Black History Month, the BEN asked Pentair employees to share the stories of Black and African American figures that have made important contributions to our world. I invite you to take a few minutes to read and learn more about these important, and perhaps less well-known, pioneering figures.


She was the first of three women to play professional baseball full-time.

Ms. Lacks made important contributions to scientific research and disease prevention, without her consent or knowledge, and without benefiting in any way. There is now a foundation in her name to assist individuals and their dependents that have been impacted by studies without consent. Grants are given for items like healthcare, tuition, and job training.

He led the first team from Bell Laboratories to introduce digital cellular technology in the United States, which made many of our modern cellular phone capabilities possible.

Dr. Rev. Harding was preaching in an interracial church on the south side of Chicago during the late 1950's. After touring the hot spots of the south in 1958 in mixed company and visiting Martin Luther King Jr., he began to work with/for Dr. King as a speechwriter and supporter. P.S. He and my father became good friends and later my younger brother was named in his honor.

Harriet had the gifts of bravery, discernment, courage and love. She cared enough about the injustice of the African American race to risk her very own life and freedom to not only set herself free, but to go back for so many other people. I will forever be inspired by her history because I too have a similar vision, which is to remain in the pursuit of progress for our African American people.

First listed African American to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the U.S. in 1879, she was the first African American to graduate from an American school of nursing. 

She was the first African American woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court, and the first to serve as a federal judge.  As a front-line lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Motley led the litigation that integrated the Universities of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi among others, overcoming Southern governors who barred the door to African American students. She opened up schools and parks to African Americans, and successfully championed the rights of minorities to protest peacefully.

It is easy to give up when you walk alone and have no precedent. Ruby Bridges was the first African American child to go to an all-White school in the south at the age of 6. It was hard to make friends, but she did not give up. She is an inspiration to many and a beacon of bravery and hope.

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