This “Hidden Figures” Mathematician Inspired Generations Of Black Students
The man who schooled Taraji P. Henson was an unsung legend.
If anyone ever tells you teaching is a glamorous job, they’ve probably never spent much time around a real teacher.
As a descendant of a long line of educators up and down my family tree, I know this well. The work is endless and carries over into late nights, grading and doing other prep for class — work that’s often unacknowledged and unappreciated.
Dr. Rudy L. Horne, a math professor who died last month at age 49, experienced a moment of celebrity that’s rare for teachers. In 2016, Horne, who taught students at Morehouse College in Atlanta, was recruited to serve as the math consultant on the movie “Hidden Figures.”
Producers hired Horne to make sure the math portrayed in the film was accurate — and specifically to help one of the film’s stars, Taraji P. Henson, get more comfortable with the complicated equations that were central to her role: Katherine Johnson, known as NASA’s “human calculator.” Johnson is an incredible woman whose story was unknown to many until the release of “Hidden Figures.”
I just got an A- on my first Algebra 1 test. You told me from the math room on set I could do it. And now I really do it ! RIP Mr Rudy ??. @HiddenFigures @theodoremelfi @Morehouse @octaviaspencer @JanelleMonae @TherealTaraji #math #coach pic.twitter.com/ggTTCOdypY
— Lidya Jewett (@lidyajewett) December 14, 2017
Talitha Washington, an associate math professor at Howard University in Washington, DC, was a close colleague of Horne’s. Washington admitted in an interview with Morning Dose this week that the real-life Horne was reluctant to take on the gig because he was afraid it would take too much time away from his teaching — but that he was grateful he ultimately went for it.
Washington told Morning Dose that the story the film portrayed mirrored her experience in a field that’s often been closed to women, particularly women of color.
I never heard of Rudy Horne until, just now, by chance, I read his obituary. It seems like he was a warm person who led a full and inspiring life, and passed away too young. I was inspired by his story so I thought I would share.https://t.co/b9KW7FJ8vI
— wikipedia brown (@eveewing) January 22, 2018
“When I saw the ‘Hidden Figures’ movie, I cried because it told the story of black women in STEM, which is my story. Not being able to be at the table, not having a position on the team,” Washington said.
“And Rudy really was instrumental in helping the actors portray the mathematics correctly,” she added. “He said that when he worked with [Henson], she learned the mathematics like she would learn lines.”
Beyond his work on the film, Washington described Horne as a “direct role model” to countless students at Morehouse, an HBCU, in a lengthy obituary published in the Chicago Sun Times this week.
The message Washington told the Sun-Times that Dr. Horne conveyed to his students was simple: “You’re a brother with a brain, mathematics is great stuff, and you can do this.”
We spent many a late night studying, and many more drinking. One of the smartest people I've ever met. And easily the nicest.
— Will Kinney (@WKCosmo) January 20, 2018
That was the message he also got across to one of the film’s young stars, Lidya Jewett, who tweeted last month that Horne had encouraged her ahead of taking her first algebra test in school. Jewett played the young Johnson.
— Kevin O'Mara (@achskomara) January 19, 2018
Horne clearly took pride both in propelling others toward academic success and, through his work on “Hidden Figures,” in helping tell an American story that had been left undiscovered for too long. His accomplishments are exactly what any devoted teacher dreams of — to educate, and to galvanize.
“It’s part of American history,” Horne told OUDaily of the film’s subject matter in an interview last year. “If it gets more people interested in STEM fields, and arts for that matter, then the movie has done its job. I think it is inspiring a lot of people.”
Top image via Rudy Horne/ KGOU.org