Saturday is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and a Macalester professor's grandmother is one of the women whose tireless mathematical work set the stage for one of the biggest moments in history.
"My grandmother was born only 42 years after slavery ended," she said. "It was pretty miraculous that she was able to get a four-year degree."
Mann was born in 1907 and raised in Macon, Ga. She was the valedictorian of her high school class and later graduated with a degree in chemistry and a minor in mathematics from Talladega College in Talladega, Ala., a Historically Black College.
"She loved math," Harris said. "And anyone who knew her knew that she would have her slide rule at the dinner table sometimes."
Harris says she's struck by what her grandmother had to overcome at the job.
"One of the things most people wouldn't know is is that the grounds of NASA in Virgina were built on what has previously been Chesterville Plantation," she said. "A lot of people don't realize that, because it had been a slave state, how deeply contentious it was to allow black women to have this prestigious job for the federal government in an area that did not want that to happen."
Mann passed away two years before the moon landing, but Harris said "she was confident it was going to happen." Decades later, Mann and the rest of the African-American women are being remembered and celebrated prominently for their intelligence and dedication to their country in the face of racism.
Professor Harris is throwing out the first pitch at the Twins game tomorrow in honor of the anniversary.