Utah School Renamed in Honor of NASA’s 1st Black Female Engineer

Mary Jackson working at NASA Langley (Wikimedia Commons)
Mary Jackson working at NASA Langley (Wikimedia Commons)

Jackson Elementary School in Salt Lake City will remain Jackson Elementary school, but the name will now have a very different meaning.


According to KSK-TV, the name of NASA engineer Mary Jackson, the first black woman to become an engineer at the esteemed space agency, and one of the subjects of the book and movie Hidden Figures, will take the place that was held by former president, and all-around terrible person, Andrew Jackson.

On Tuesday the Salt Lake City Board of Education voted unanimously to rename the school for Mary Jackson. It signaled the end of a long, public process that began in the 2016-2017 school year. Other options for renaming the school had included Fairpark Elementary School (for the neighborhood where the school is located) and Rising Elementary School, which was suggested “because it speaks to students, teachers and families rising with knowledge.”

As part of the process, members of the school community researched the board documents and confirmed that the school had been named after the former president, who was a supporter of slavery and became wealthy on the backs of enslaved people. He was also the main orchestrator behind the Trail of Tears. Between Jackson and his successor, Martin Van Buren, thousands of Native Americans were forced from their ancestral lands in a move that resulted in the deaths of thousands as a result of cold, starvation and disease.

The school’s principal, Jana Edward, said that the renaming “was a very unifying event. We are now recognized as the only school named after a [black] woman in Salt Lake District. We also wanted to be very cognizant we are a college-going culture. She had a college degree where President Andrew Jackson did not. Also, it means we get to recognize a black woman who became the first black female NASA engineer.”

Mary Jackson was more than just the first black female NASA engineer, however. She was trailblazing before she even got there. In order to be hired as an engineer, she had to petition the city of Hampton, Va., to get special permission just to take graduate classes in math and physics that were taught at a segregated, all-white school.

The board will be calling for a display honoring her in the school, as well as for a renaming ceremony later this year. The school has also reached out in hopes that Mary Jackson’s family will be able to participate in the celebration, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

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Roc Kit

It’s worth looking at those links and noting that this change got started because Kiana Phillips, a sixth grader, noticed and took it personally and spoke up and was heard.