While seeing a Hollywood movie about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson (three Black women credited with being the hidden brains behind the launch of John Glen into orbit), Martha Josephine Wagner turns to her grandson and says “That was just like me with Mr. Parks. I guess I’m a ‘hidden figures’ woman too?”. She has it more right than she probably knows.
There’s almost no one who grew up in Baltimore in the mid-60s to late 70s that doesn’t know of the Parks Sausage Company. From the company’s wildly popular jingle (“More Parks Sausage, Mom! Please!”) to its delightfully tasty sausages that everyone in the city came to know and love, the Parks Sausage Company was synonymous with great home-cooked meals and good memories.
Led by two accomplished Black men, Henry Parks and Raymond Haysbert, the company made history as the first wholly-owned Black company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange – a veritable shining example of what was possible for a community of Black people bent double under the burden of racism.
But what most don’t know is that behind the headlines and market-leading moves, there was an organizational and administrative enigma who helped turn the company into the juggernaut it rose to become. Hidden Figures is the story of that enigma and her name is Martha Josephine Wagner.
Bringing Hidden Figures into the Spotlight
Hidden Figures Woman at the Parks Sausage Company: The Martha J. Wagner Story is an account of the life of an important but often overlooked personality at one of the most significant Black-owned enterprises in African American history. The story, as told by author Tony Regusters, is narrated in part by the heroine of the tale herself.
The compelling narrative charts the life and background of a woman described as “remarkable” and provides insight into how Ms. Wagner helped create one of the most successful Black-owned companies of the last century.
History is replete with little-known stories of these figures who played an important role behind the scenes but rarely, if ever, featured at all on the front lines. These individuals were often instrumental to great outcomes but did not always enjoy the attention that the roles they played deserved.
Hidden Figures provides a chance to correct some of this injustice, starting with the story of Ms. Wagner, and anyone looking to help shine a spotlight on these hidden heroes will enjoy the intriguing story that this book tells.
Regusters begins his book with an account of the early life of Ms. Wagner and her upbringing in the relatively prosperous community of Sugar Hill, Baltimore. A community of “strivers”, Sugar Hill was home to middle-class Black men and women who did everything within their power to find some measure of success in an economy and society that was deeply unfavorable to them.
Perhaps this was the root of Ms. Wagner’s indomitable spirit and her confident, cool-headed propensity to thrive when given responsibility. Regusters details how this young, relatively sheltered girl grew to a young woman who first became a “Rosie Riveter” during the Second World War and eventually rose to the position of the de facto organizational and operational head of the Parks Sausage Company.
Regusters tells the tale of a woman whose organization brilliance saw her contribute to a historic company in many ways, from maintaining operational standards, to accounting, managing marketing campaigns, taking charge of the administrative office, and even overseeing plant operations. But the story doesn’t end there. The book also provides a provocative look at a woman who was at the peak of her powers, both professionally and socially, earning a name of repute within the highest professional and social circles.
Although Hidden Figures is not the bulkiest of books, it does manage, within its 60-odd pages, to make us curious, fall in love, get our hearts broken, and feel our breaths catch in admiration of a woman who made it all happen for the Parks Sausage Company.