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Discover and celebrate the achievements of some of America’s most inspiring women!

The first female. African American vice president, first U.S. senator, the 83rd U.S. Attorney General, and first black state legislator in Alaska. The first time a black woman and a white band shared the same stage; the first black woman writer to win a Pulitzer Prize; and the first black prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera Company. Black women have accomplished incredible things throughout American history.

An important book, Originals! Barrier-breaking Black Women profiles the lives and successes of such notable and iconic women as abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph, mathematician Katherine Johnson, organizer and politician Stacy Adams Stacey Abrams, astronaut Mae Jemison, jazz legend Billie Holiday, ballerina Misty Copeland, Vice President Kamala Harris, and also the accomplishments of hundreds of less-famous and lesser-known women. This fascinating read recounts 1,400 achievements, including … 

  • Gail Fisher, the first black actress to receive an Emmy Award.
  • Tina Sloan-Green, the first black American woman to compete on the U.S. National Lacrosse team.
  • Sarah J. (Smith Thompson) Garnet, the first black female principal in the New York City public school system.
  • Ruth Carol Taylor, the first flight attendant to smash the color barrier.
  • Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler, the first black woman awarded a medical degree in the United States.
  • Camilla Ella Williams, the first black woman to sing with the New York City Opera.
  • Altha Stewart, the first African American president of The American Psychiatric Association.
  • Jessie Carney Smith, the first black national president of Beta Phi Mu, the honor society for persons with graduate degrees in library science.
  • Gwendolyn Brooks, the author of Annie Allen, a book of poetry that won the first Pulitzer Prize awarded to an African American.
  • Jeanine McIntosh-Menze, the first African American female aviator in the U.S. Coast Guard’s 215-year history.

    The story of black women in America is one of struggle and obstacles overcome. It’s a story of great achievement and soaring heights. Let Originals! inspire and educate you as it shares the stories and breakthroughs of hundreds of black women in American history!! With more than 210 photos and illustrations, this enlightening book also includes a helpful bibliography and an extensive index, adding to its usefulness.

  • Arts & Entertainment

    Despite the experiences of women in America who endured discrimination because of race, gender, or age, those of the black race set their own cultural agenda when they entered this country and extended it to the present time. They came to American in chains, but the chains never prevented them from exercising their musical and artistic talent, or from giving full expression to their creativity on the slave plantation and beyond. Their cultural expressions shaped the slave communities where they lived, the white community, which they served, and much later the broader community.

    The birth of slave songs or spirituals, dance, and use of musical instruments can be traced to this time. The hidden messages that the slave songs presented were meant to console and entertain their families and slave contacts, as a shield against the inhumanity of the enslaved, and to instruct their people to get ready for a change—an escape. For example, enslaved people told of a planned escape by using the words Jordan River when they sang, which meant that the route would be by means of the nearby river.

    As time passed from that distressing period, African American women never lost their desire to express their cultural strivings and talent in the arts and humanities. Perhaps the most fertile period of artistic expression came during a time known as the Harlem Renaissance, which fermented much earlier but found expression around 1920 and extended into the mid-1930s. It was a literary and cultural movement of black Americas to celebrate their culture and racial identity. They sought to remove old racial stereotypes and highlight their positive side. Black women before, during, and after this era were talented in art, dance, and music. They were writers whose works went down in history and are still studied and analyzed.

    As the Harlem Renaissance moved toward an end, there were organized efforts of the federal government to encourage and support black artistic talent of men and women artists, dramatists, and writers. These were the Works Progress Administration, and the Federal Theatre Project.

    Among those talented in art and sculpture were Elizabeth Catlett, Edmonia “Wildfire” Lewis, and Augusts Savage. Black women demonstrated another form of cultural expression that expanded into an artistic form that struck a chord among audiences. These artists include dancers Janet Collins, Katherine Dunham, and more recently Misty Copeland. Black women excelled as actresses, directors, and playwrights in drama and theater, as seen in the works of early achievers Anita Bush and Florence Mills, later followed by Ruby Dee, and Anna Deavere Smith.

    Many Americans label blacks as musical people. Without a doubt, women of the race continue to make an unparalleled mark on this art form. They are celebrated singers like nineteenth-century concert singer Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield (called “The Black Swan”), followed by an array of singers, composers, and choral directors, and those with other musical talents. These included Marian Anderson, Billie Holiday, Lillian Evanti, Florence Beatrice Price, Rosetta Tharpe, Bessie Smith, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Ella Fitzgerald, Ethel Waters, and Queen Latifa.

    Black women artists excelled in film, radio, and television. Film stars, directors, and writers Fredi Washington, Euzham Paley, Whoopi Goldberg, Halle Berry, and Viola Davis are a few examples. Dorothy Brunson, Bernadine Washington, and Catherine “Cathy” Liggins Hughes are among the radio station owners and manages. Television stars, writers, and hosts like Della Reese, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Shonda Lynn Rhimes, Tamron Hall, Robin Roberts and Oprah Winfrey helped to portray black women in positive and meaningful roles.

    Perhaps nothing can exceed the rich results of black women’s mighty pen. There were nonfiction writers dating back to 1835, when Susan Paul emerged, followed much later by Zora Neale Hurston and Maya Angelou. Nonfiction writers Harriet E. Adams Wilson (first black woman to publish a novel), Ann Petry, and science-fiction writer Octavia Butler took their place in history. Other poets include Lucy Terry Prince), our first American poet. African-born Phyllis Wheatley emerged as the first person in America to publish a book of poetry, and one whose name is widely known throughout the country. Other black women poets include Gwendolyn Brooks and previously noted Maya Angelou. There are Pulitzer Prize-winners Gwendolyn Brooks and Alice Waller, and Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison. This review of black American women who were first to achieve in the arts and humanities is at most a snapshot of their pioneering work to showcase the contributions of their efforts.


    Ground-Breaking black musical-comedy troupe

    1876 • The Hyers Sisters Comic Opera Company was organized, becoming the first permanent black musical-comedy troupe. The sisters’ father led his daughters to success from the post-Civil War period until the 1890s. The sisters, Anna Madah Hyers (1856?–1930s) and Emma Louise Hyers (1858?–1899?), received their early musical training from their parents, and later they studied voice and piano with a German professor and a former Italian opera singer. On April 22, 1867, the sisters made their professional debut at the local Metropolitan Theater. They left the stage to continue study and to prepare for a national tour. Their first major recital came on August 12, 1871, in Salt Lake City, Utah, and had successful concerts in principal cities all over the country. By the mid-1870s, their father changed the concert company into a musical comedy company, the Comic Opera Company. They toured the country under the Redpath Lyceum Bureau. The first and only black repertory company, for more than a decade, they were the nation’s most celebrated troupe.
    Trend-setting social protest dancer

    Pioneering “Butler Kids”

    1916• In 1916 Lauretta Green Butler (1881–1952) opened the first black professional dance studio in Los Angeles. She later performed with some of the country’s best black orchestras. She gave up her musical career and opened a professional dance studio for children—the first such venture in the country.. Butler presented her first Kiddie Minstrel Review in 1917, establishing herself as the foremost producer of children’s acts. The studio was renamed the Kiddie Review around 1923, eliminating blackface makeup. The “Butler Kids,” as her students became known, were in constant demand. Black as well as white children were trained in the studio, including some members of The Little Rascals and Our Gang. Butler Studio closed in the late 1940s.

    The sublime “Lady Day”

    1937 • When jazz great Billie Holiday (1915–1959) teamed up with the Artie Shaw Band and toured the country, this was the first time a black woman and a white band shared the same stage. Holiday was born Elenora Fagan in Baltimore, Maryland. She became a regular in Harlem clubs and was in demand as a singer. She he toured with Count Basie’s orchestra and became soloist with Artie Shaw’s white band. Jazz saxophonist Lester Young nicknamed her “Lady Day” when she was with Count Basie’s band. She assumed the name “Billie” from movie star Billie Dove. Holiday was known for wearing gardenias in her hair and she performed with her eyes nearly closed. Her protest song “Strange Fruit” was a ballad about lynching; the fruit represented black men hanging from trees. At the peak of her career in the late 1930s and early 40s, she began to struggle with drug and alcohol addiction.

    Leading syndicated cartoonist

    1937 • Zelda Jackson “Jackie” Ormes (1917–1986) became the first nationally syndicated black woman cartoonist. In this year she began her cartoon “Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem,” that ran in the Pittsburgh Courier. She also created the strips “Patty Jo n’ Ginger,” and “Candy.” She became a general assignment reporter for the Chicago Defender. Ormes published her second cartoon, “Patty Jo n’ Ginger.” Her work was syndicated in black newspapers nationwide, and until the 1990s she was the only nationally syndicated black woman cartoonist.

    Met prima ballerina

    1951 • Janet Collins (1917–2003) was the first black prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera Company. She made her debut in Aida on November 13 and had the lead in Carmen, La Gioconda, and Sampson and Delilah. Collins studied dance under Katherine Dunham, who was known for her landmark modern dance company, the Dunham Dance Company. She moved to New York in search of a career in dance and made her debut in 1949. In 1950 she appeared in Cole Porter’s Out of the World, in which she danced the role of “Night.” She taught at the School of American Ballet, performed in concerts and on television, but became known chiefly for her choreography and her dance instruction.

    Founder architectural firm

    1954 • In 1954 Norma Merrick Sklarek (1928–) became the first black woman registered architect in New York State. In 1962 she became the first black woman licensed in California. She was also the first black woman fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980. In 1955 she joined the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owens, Merrill and in 1960 moved to Gruen and Associates in Los Angeles where she remained for twenty years. Sklarek, in 1966, became the first woman director of architecture with twenty architects on staff. That same year she was the first woman honored with a fellowship in the American Institute of Architects. In 1985 she founded her own architectural firm, Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond.

    Ringling Brothers clown

    1977 • Bernice Collins (1957–) was the first black woman clown with Ringling Brothers. She attended “The Greatest Show on Earth” in Chicago, met members of the cast, and soon studied at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. In 1977 she became the first black woman clown in the show’s history. Her love for animals brought her in contact with Charly Baumann, who tutored her. Collins made her debut with big cats in 1983. She returned to Ringling Bros. as a showgirl and then back to the animals, where she presented horses. Collins has presided as Company Manager at Big Apple Circus and later joined Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity in Las Vegas.

    Pulitzer Prize winner

    1983 • Alice Walker (1944–) was the first black woman writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for a work of fiction, on April 18. The novel The Color Purple was popular but controversial. It also won the American Book Award and established her as a major American writer. Her third novel, The Color Purple was made into an Oscar-nominated movie, which intensified discussion among black men and women over her presentation of black men. Walker is also a poet, essayist, and short fiction writer. The Georgia-born writer was labeled a rebel and forced to leave Spelman College; she graduated from the more liberal Sarah Lawrence College in 1965 and worked in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi after graduation. An ardent feminist, Walker uses the term “womanist” to describe her work. Her works include The Third Life of Grange Copeland, In Search of Our Mother’s Garden: Womanist Prose, Temple of My Familiar, Meridian, and The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart.

    Media tycoon

    1986 • Oprah Winfrey (1954–) became the first black woman to host a nationally syndicated weekday talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, on February 8. She started her career at WTVF, a CBS local affiliate in Nashville, Tennessee where she was the first woman co-anchor), and later moved to Chicago. In 1984 Winfrey took over A.M. Chicago, which aired opposite Phil Donahue. She formed Harpo Productions and bought her own television and movie production studio. She is the first black woman in television and film to own her own production company. She ended the show and the launched the series premier of her network called OWN (Oprah Winfrey’s Network), a joint venture with Discovery Communications. Oprah’s Book Club, an on-air reading club, ran from 1996 to 2002. Later, Winfrey launched Oprah’s Angel Network. She has appeared in a number of films, including The Color Purple and Beloved. Her television movies include The Women of Brewster Place. With Hearst Magazines, Winfrey introduced The Oprah Magazine. Her various charitable programs included The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation, The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, and the March for Our Lives demonstration for Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Winfrey is cited as the richest woman in television history. She has appeared on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list of the world’s most powerful celebrities in the world, claiming the No. 1 spot for several years. Forbes called her the richest black person of the 20th century and for three consecutive years the only black billionaire. Winfrey’s numerous awards include honoree at the 33rd annual Kennedy Center Honors and later the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    Dancer, actor, writer and poet

    1993 • Maya Angelou (Marguerite Johnson) (1928–2014) became the first black inaugural poet, at the swearing in of President Bill Clinton on January 20. She began a career as a dancer and performed in Chicago and New York; she also toured Europe and Africa in Porgy and Bess. Around this time she adopted her name Maya. Angelou returned to the United States and continued her career as a nightclub performer. She also became a social activist and committed herself to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1961 she had a successful performance in Jean Genet’s play, The Blacks. The Harlem Writer’s Guild helped her along her newly chosen path of becoming a writer. In 1970 she published her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and became the first black woman to have a nonfiction work on the bestseller list. She earned an Emmy nomination for her appearance in Alex Haley’s television production of Roots, and she continued her acting career while she developed a writing career. In 1981 Angelou accepted a lifetime appointment at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem as Reynolds Professor of American Studies. Her numerous works include several volumes of poetry, yet critics consider her first autobiography and The Heart of a Woman her most outstanding works. With the publication of her sixth and final memoir, A Song Flung up to Heaven (2002), Angelou intended to “close the book on life,” to the extent that it would be her concluding memoir. Her inaugural poem was published as “On the Pulse of Morning” soon after the presidential ceremony.

    Nobel Prize winner

    1993 • Toni Morrison (1931–2019), novelist, educator, and editor, was the first black American and the second American woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature, which was awarded on October 7. The Swedish Academy called her “a literary artist of first rank,” one who “gives life to an essential aspect of American reality,” and one who wrote prose “with the luster of poetry.” Informed of the honor, Morrison said that her work was inspired by “huge silences in literature, things that had never been articulated, printed or imagined and they were the silences about black girls, black women.” Her novel Song of Solomon, published in 1977, won the National Book Critics Award for fiction that year, and in 1988 she won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her work Beloved. Her other novels include The Bluest Eye, Sula, Tar Baby, Jazz, Paradise, Love, and A Mercy. In 1965 Morrison began a series of appointments as editor for book publishers. She mixed her editorial work with a teaching career and taught at a number of colleges. In Morrison 1989 became the Robert F. Goheen Professor of the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University. She resigned from Princeton in 2006. In 1996 the National Endowment for the Humanities named her Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities.

    Misty ballerina breaks barrier

    2015 • Trailblazing ballerina Misty Copeland (1982–) took the lead in Swan Lake at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City and in June became the first African American performer to serve as a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). She also joined the cast of the Broadway revival of Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town. Copeland studied under ballet instructor Cindy Bradley and joined the studio company of ABT in 2000, becoming Ballet Theatre (ABT). She also joined the cast of the Broadway revival of Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town. Copeland studied under ballet instructor Cindy Bradley and joined the studio company of ABT in 2000, becoming a soloist. Several years later, she starred in such productions as The Nutcracker and Firebird. Of mixed ethnic heritage, her mother had several marriages. Copeland endured a difficult family life but found solace in dancing routines, which she performed at home. At age 13, she moved in with her ballet teacher’s family, continued her training, and performed in several productions, including The Chocolate Nutcracker. Beyond ballet, Copeland published her own calendar in 2013. She published her memoir, the best-selling Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, and Firebird, an award-winning children’s picture book, both in 2014. In 2016, she inspired a Barbie doll that wore a costume similar to the one she wore in Firebird. The doll is a part of the Barbie Sheroes program, which spotlights female heroes who break boundaries. Copeland also appeared on the television program Dancing with the Stars.

    Inaugural poet

    2021 • Amanda Gorham (1998- ), only 22 years old, became the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history when she read her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration of President elect Joe Biden on January 20. In her five-minute reading, she called for healing and unity in our nation. Following this appearance, she performed at Super Bowl LV. In 2014 Gorman was named the first Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles. Three years later she became the country’s first National Youth Poet Laureate. The Los Angeles native experienced chronic ear infections as an infant, followed by an auditory processing disorder that resulted in her speech impediment. She worked hard and practiced daily to drop the stop dropping certain letters and to become the phenomenal orator that she is today. In 2016 she founded a nonprofit called One Pen One Page, to help youth to use their voices and eliminate inequality by becoming educated. Her first children’s book, Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem, has become a popular work.

    About the Author




    1. Arts & Entertainment

    2. Business

    3. Civil Rights and Protest

    4. Education

    5. Journalism
    6. Military
    7. Miscellaneous

    8. Organizations

    8. Politics and Government

    9. Religion

    10. Science and Medicine

    11. Sports





    Publié par
    Date de parution 01 mars 2022
    Nombre de lectures 0
    EAN13 9781578597710
    Langue English
    Poids de l'ouvrage 2 Mo

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    Photo: Vando Rogers
    Distinguished in the library profession and a recognized educator, author, and scholar, Jessie Carney Smith is Librarian Emerita of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Previously, she was dean of the library and held the Camille Cosby Distinguished Chair in the Humanities at Fisk. She completed her undergraduate degree at North Carolina A&T State University, continued her studies at Cornell University, holds master s degrees from Michigan State University and Vanderbilt University, and received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois.
    Dr. Smith s work with Visible Ink Press resulted in three previous editions of Black Firsts ; two editions of Black Heroes ; The Handy African American History Book ; and, with her colleague Linda T. Wynn, Freedom Facts and Firsts: 400 Years of the American Civil Rights Experience . Other works that she wrote or edited include Black Women of the Harlem Renaissance Era (with colleague Dr. Lean tin L. Bracks); Encyclopedia of African American Business (two volumes, two editions); Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture (three volumes); Notable Black American Women (Books I, II. and III); Notable Black American Men (Books I and II); Epic Lives: One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference ; Powerful Black Women ; Ethnic Genealogy ; and Black Academic Libraries and Research Collections .
    Widely celebrated for her work, Dr. Smith s recognitions include the National Women s Book Association Award; the Candace Award for excellence in education; Sage magazine s Anna J. Cooper Award for research on African American women; the Academic/Research Librarian of the Year Award from the Association of College and Research Libraries; the Distinguished Alumni Award from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University; the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Illinois, School of Library and Information Science; the Research Career Award from Fisk University; and the Belle Ringer Image Award from Bennett College for Women. She has been cited by the American Library Association for her contributions to that organization and long tenure at Fisk.

    Copyright 2022 by Visible Ink Press
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    Photo Sources
    Arts and Entertainment
    Civil Rights and Protests
    Politics and Government
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    Further Reading
    African American Almanac: 400 Years of Triumph, Courage and Excellence
    By Lean tin Bracks, Ph.D.
    ISBN: 978-1-57859-323-1
    The American Women s Almanac: 500 Years of Making History
    By Deborah G. Felder
    ISBN: 978-1-57859-636-2
    Black Firsts: 500 Years of Trailblazing Achievements and Ground-Breaking Events
    By Jessie Carnie Smith, Ph.D.
    ISBN: ISBN: 978-1-57859-688-1
    Black Heroes
    By Jessie Carnie Smith, Ph.D.
    ISBN: 978-1-57859-136-7
    Freedom Facts and Firsts: 400 Years of the African American Civil Rights Experience
    By Jessie Carnie Smith, Ph.D., and Linda T. Wynn
    ISBN: 978-1-57859-192-3
    The Handy African American History Answer Book
    By Jessie Carnie Smith, Ph.D.
    ISBN: 978-1-57859-452-8
    The Handy American History Answer Book
    By David L. Hudson, Jr.
    ISBN: 978-1-57859-471-9
    The Handy Christianity Answer Book
    By Stephen A. Werner, Ph.D.
    ISBN: 978-1-57859-686-7
    The Handy Islam Answer Book
    By John Renard, Ph.D.
    ISBN: 978-1-57859-510-5
    Native American Almanac: More Than 50,000 Years of the Cultures and Histories of Indigenous Peoples
    By Yvonne Wakim Dennis, Arlene Hirschfelder, and Shannon Rothenberger Flynn
    ISBN: 978-1-57859-507-5
    Native American Landmarks and Festivals: A Traveler s Guide to Indigenous United States and Canada
    By Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Arlene Hirschfelder
    ISBN: 978-1-57859-641-6
    Trailblazing Women! Amazing Americans Who Made History
    By Deborah G. Felder
    ISBN: 978-1-57859-729-1
    Please visit us at www.visibleinkpress.com .
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    U.S. National Library of Medicine: pp. 302, 305, 309.
    U.S. National Park Service: p. 60 (top).
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    The Visibility Project: p. 81.
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    Jim Wallace: p. 118.
    White House Staff Photographers Collection: p. 110.
    Who s Who among the Colored Baptists of the U.S.: p. 8.
    William Morris Agency: p. 20.
    World Economic Forum: p. 123.
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