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New Guilford County schools to be named after a civil rights pioneer and a NASA mathematician

Sylvia Mendez
Charles Dharapak
Left: President Barack Obama awards civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez the 2010 Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011. (AP Photo) Right: NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson is seen in 2014. (NASA via AP)

Guilford County Schools will name new schools in honor of a civil rights pioneer and a NASA mathematician.

On Tuesday, the Guilford County Schools Board of Education approved the name “Sylvia Mendez Newcomers School” for a future High Point school.

Mendez was a Hispanic-American who as a child was denied entry to a public school in California. Her parents filed a federal lawsuit which paved the way for the historic Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision establishing that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.

Mendez went on to a successful career in health care and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Giselle Mansi is the Latino Family Center Director at the High Point YWCA and was among those advocating for the name change.

"Mendez’s life and mission was to spread a message of tolerance and opportunity to children of all backgrounds and all walks of life," Mansi told the board.

According to a news release, the future newcomers school in High Point will be the first in North Carolina named after a Latino individual.

The board also voted to name a new K-8 school after Katherine Johnson, one of several Black women who played crucial roles as NASA mathematicians. Their lives were chronicled in the book “Hidden Figures,” which was later made into a film.

Johnson’s youngest daughter, Katherine Moore, was among those who spoke before the board, referring to her mother as a “woman of distinction.”

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