Growing up on a farm in Virginia during segregation, West knew education would be her means of escape. But she didn’t know her quiet work on a naval base would change lives around the world
Gladys West knew from a young age that she didn’t want to be a farmer. But the mathematician, born in 1930 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, still had to help harvest crops on her family’s small farm. The hard work started before daybreak and lasted well into the blistering heat of the afternoon. She hated the dirt but, while she worked, she kept her mind on the building behind the trees at the end of the farm. It was her school, and even then she knew it would be her ticket to freedom.
“I was gonna get an education and I was going to get out of there. I wasn’t going to be stuck there all my life,” West, 89, says firmly, on Zoom in her home in Virginia.
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