Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston is one of the greatest writers to ever pick up a pen. The literary savant birthed "Their Eyes Were Watching God," "Of Mules and Men," and "Seraph on the Suwanee." However, it is Hurston's work as an anthropologist that made her a trailblazer.
She studied anthropology at Barnard College under the tutelage of Franz Boas, who is often called the "father of American anthropology." He encouraged her to explore folklore and voodoo, according to the Association for Feminist Anthropology.
Hurston began traveling to Haiti and Jamaica with the support of the Guggenheim fellowship to explore Black folklore. This work became "Mules and Men," which the Association for Feminist Anthropology considers the first collection of Black folklore by a Black American.
That's one of the reasons she's considered a trailblazer in anthropology.
"Hurston's research was deeply rooted in a Diaspora paradigm, which stressed an examination of the cultural continuities and differences that emerged when Blacks were scattered across the Americas and Europe as a consequence of slavery," anthropologist Irma McClaurin said.
You can read more about Zora Neale Hurston in her autobiography, "Dust Tracks on a Road."
Edmonia Lewis is the first professional Black American sculptor. She began her career in Boston in the 1800s. Although she wasn't professionally trained as a sculptor, Lewis began creating portraits of abolitionists, like William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, and Wendell Phillips, to much fanfare.
She then decided to move to Rome where she became a respected artist, according to Al Jazeera. In the magical Italian city, Lewis created her most well-known sculpture, the Death of Cleopatra. The 1876 sculpture is currently exhibited at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The famous sculpture recently became a Google Doodle.
You can learn more about Edmonia Lewis by reading "Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis"
Rosa Parks wasn't the first Black bus patron who refused to relinquish her seat to a white passenger.
In 1955, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin went to jail for disturbing the peace, assaulting a police officer, and violating segregation laws, because she, like Parks, refused to give a white person her bus seat.
However, the NAACP abandoned her case when its leadership discovered her pregnancy with a married man.
Read more about Claudette Colvin's civil disobedience in "Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice."
Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune is an educator and activist who devoted her life to teaching Black girls. She founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls in 1904. In 1923, the school merged with the Cookman Institute of Jacksonville in 1923. It is now Bethune-Cookman College, a historical Black college in Florida.
Beyond that, Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women and was the director of Black Affairs for the National Youth Administration.
Her dedication to Black girls is unparalleled.
Read more about the great educator in "Mary McLeod Bethune in Florida: Bringing Social Justice to the Sunshine States."
Mae C. Jemison
Mae Jemison is the first African-American woman to go to space. She orbited the Earth 126 times on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992. Beyond her role as an astronaut, Jemison also began studying at Stanford University at age 16, has a doctorate in medicine from Cornell University, and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
She applied to NASA's astronaut program and became one of 15 candidates selected in 1987. Yet Jemison left NASA in 1993 to found the Jemison Group, an organization that encourages students to pursue careers in science.
She also hosts an international science camp for high school students. Her TED Talk on teaching arts and sciences together has been viewed over 600,000 times.
Learn more about this space pioneer by watching her MAKERS documentary.