JERSEY CITY – Marion Johnson remembers every detail of July 20, 1969.

As everyone waited in anticipation of Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the moon, Johnson nee Lee, remembers hearing the exciting words everyone inside Boeing’s control center had been waiting to hear:

“We have a man on the moon.”

Johnson, an African American woman fresh out of college, played an important role in the mission as an associate engineer with Boeing, testing where the rockets attached to the aircraft would fall.

Now an instructor at Branford Hall in Jersey City, Johnson was honored at the career institute on Wednesday afternoon as one of New Jersey’s own “Hidden Figures.”

During the surprise celebration, Johnson, now a Plainfield resident, shared her story of success and the struggles she encountered growing up in the south during the Jim Crow era with her students.

Growing up in Savannah Georgia with three sisters and one brother, the children knew their father would come walking through the door from work at 4:11 p.m. He expected his kids to be doing their homework or something else productive.

Johnson had dreams of going away to college. She worked hard in school, secured a full scholarship to Talladega College. She studied math and science, but ended up losing her scholarship because her grades slipped. Johnson took out a loan, and refocused her priorities to regain her scholarship. 

She secured a job with Boeing after graduating with her degree. Unlike in “Hidden Figures,” which follows three women of working with NASA, the atmosphere at Boeing was not segregated like most places in south in 1969.

“There was no color,” Johnson said.  

She takes the experiences she has from working at Boeing to her Journal Square classroom, reminding her students — especially during Black History Month — that their success is not limited by the color of their skin. Johnson models herself after one of her high school teachers. 

“I had somebody who helped me along,” she said. “I want to help somebody else along.” 

Johnson’s name is etched in the “Roll of Honor” at the Smithsonian Institute for her successful role in the space mission. She has also received accolades from Boeing for a series successful rocket tests without causing any damage.  

Caitlin Mota may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @caitlin_mota. Find The Jersey Journal on Facebook.

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