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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

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"

Marie Van Brittan Brown

Marie Van Brittan Brown and her husband, Albert Brown, created the pre-cursor to the modern home monitoring systems. Brown lived in Queens, New York, and worked as a nurse. Since she and her husband worked irregular hours, Brown often found herself home alone, according to Think Protection.

That's why she and her husband created a system that allowed them to identify visitors without having to go to the front door. They put a television monitor in their bedroom and attached a motorized camera to the front door. 

They also installed a button that sounded an alarm if an intruders circumvented the security system. They filed for a patent for their idea in 1969.

Their invention became the standard for the home security systems many homeowners use.

Claudette Colvin

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."

Cathay Williams

Cathay Williams is considered the first Black woman to enlist and serve in the US Army. Union soldiers freed Williams and her parents from a plantation in Independence, Missouri during the Civil War.

Soon after, she began working as a laundress and a cook for the Army. However, when Congress established the Buffalo Soldiers, the first all-Black military unit, in 1866, she decided to officially join the armed forces. Legends of America notes that Williams wanted to remain financially independent.

The Army didn't accept women, so she enlisted as William Cathay in the 38 US Infantry. Even though the Army discovered her gender and discharged her, Williams is still the first African-American female soldier.

Her gender is not a barrier to her greatness.

Watch the Buffalo Soldiers movie to learn more about the infantry Williams joined.

Madam C.J. Walker

Madam C.J. Walker is America's first Black self-made millionaire. After suffering from a scalp condition, Walker began creating and selling Madam Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp healing product.

She then began selling her products door-to-door, before hiring almost 2,000 employees to do it for her.

Almost $1 million later, Walker is credited with innovating the hair care industry.

Read more about her haircare innovations in "On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker."

Donyale Luna

Donyale Luna is the world's first Black supermodel. She's also the first Black woman to appear on the cover of Vogue, though Beverly Johnson is often credited for this feat.

Photographer David McCabe discovered Luna in 1963 while visiting Detroit on an assignment. He invited her to New York for a photo shoot, which she accepted in 1964. He helped her nab an agent and a modeling contract.

Luna entered the elite supermodel realm when she graced the cover of British Vogue in 1966. The New York Times even referred to her as a "stunning Negro model whose face had the hauteur and feline grace of Nefertiti."

Yet, her legacy has largely been diminished because she died at age 33 from a drug overdose. What she's done for fashion, however, can never be forgotten.

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.