It is with great sadness that we share the recent passing of Dr. Harriet Jenkins (center of photo), an ASALH Ray of Light. She attended both the Centennial Founders’ Day Celebration in 2015 and the 2016 Founders’ Day Celebrations. She was extremely overwhelmed with the honor ASALH bestowed on her as a Centennial Ray of Light.
A very humble woman, Dr. Jenkins worked as Assistant Administrator for Equal Opportunity at NASA for over twenty years. She recruited the first African American astronauts. Dr. Jenkins mentoring legacy at NASA epitomizes Dr. Woodson’s legacy of mentoring and gained her the honor of one of ASALH’s Rays of Light.
As shared by the NASA Administrator, “Dr. Jenkins’ many professional accomplishments and the tremendous contributions she made in furthering civil rights efforts at NASA and throughout the country will never be forgotten. I owe her a great debt of gratitude, as she helped recruit the agency’s first African American astronauts in the late 1970s, which enabled me to have the life-changing experience of traveling to space in furtherance of our nation’s journey of discovery. Among many awards,
Dr. Jenkins was recognized with NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal, as well as the President’s Meritorious Executive Award, NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal, and the President’s Distinguished Executive Award. She chaired the Agency’s Task Force on Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, one of nine task forces of the Personnel Management Project, which led to the landmark Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. For this work, she received the Civil Service Commissioners’ Award for Distinguished Service. NASA honored Dr. Jenkins by naming a graduate fellowship program after her – the NASA Harriett G. Jenkins Pre-doctoral Fellowship. Alumni of the Jenkins fellowship have gone on to successful careers as scientists and engineers at NASA and with our academic and industry partners.
As we celebrate Katherine Johnson and the Hidden Figures of the past who helped integrate our agency and advance NASA’s goals even in a segregated society, I also want us all to celebrate the life of this iconic figure here at NASA without whom we may have had no Modern Figures — the women of color advancing all aspects of our work today. Much of our progress would not have been possible without Dr. Jenkins’ dedicated work helping to ensure that all who wish to participate in science and space exploration have the opportunity to do so and to succeed beyond their wildest dreams. Godspeed, Harriett Jenkins. “