Merrick Sklarek (1926-2012) was one of the first black women to become a licensed
architect in the United States. Nicknamed the “Rosa Parks
of Architecture”, she was the first black female architect in the states of New
York and later California.
She received her degree from Columbia
University School of Architecture in 1950, graduating as one of only two female
students. In 1980, she was the first black woman elected as a fellow of the
American Institute of Architects.
Eaton (1921-2018) was a civil rights activist in
the state of North Carolina. President Obama described her as a personal
inspiration and a “beacon of civil rights”.
When she was 21, she passed a severe literacy
test and registered to vote, one of the first African Americans to do so in her
state. She served as a county poll worker and a special registrar commissioner
for 40 years after that, helping more than 4000 people to register to vote.
Puryear Hearn (b. 1940) is a biophysicist whose
career focuses on health policy. She has worked on various development
programmes to improve the health of at-risk children.
She has a degree in biochemistry and a PhD
in biophysics, the latter from Yale University. She served as the Senior Vice
President of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the largest healthcare
philanthropy in the US, for almost 20 years. She focused on maternal and child
health, as well as AIDS and substance abuse.
Bolin (1908-2007) was a lawyer and judge who
achieved a number of historic firsts. She was the first black woman to graduate
from Yale Law School, the first to join the New York City Bar Association and
the first to serve as a judge in the United States.
She graduated from Yale Law School in 1931,
from a class where she was the only black student and one of three women. She
was appointed as a judge in 1939 and served in this position for 40 years. She
was also a legal advisor to the National Council of Negro Women and an activist
for education and children’s rights.
Cooper Cafritz (1947-2018) was a civil rights activist and philanthropist from Alabama,
active in Washington, D.C. Although she was born in a well-off family, the racism
she experienced throughout her life still shaped her worldview.
She attended George Washington University,
where she studied law and organised the Black Student Union, working to
integrate fraternities and sororities. She was one of the founders of the Duke
Ellington School of the Arts, and served on the DC Commission on the Arts and
Aprille Ericsson-Jackson (b. 1963) is an aerospace engineer working for
the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. She was the first African-American woman
to obtain a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Howard University, as well as a
PhD in Engineering from NASA GSFC.
She was an undergraduate in aeronautical engineering
at MIT, where she worked in the Applied Physics Laboratory. Her work at NASA helps
to manage spacecraft orientation during missions.
Naomi Sims (1948-2009) is considered the first
African-American supermodel. She battled racial prejudice to become one of the
first successful black models.
She began her career after winning a scholarship
with the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Even though it was
very difficult to find modelling jobs because agencies claimed her skin was too
dark, the breakthrough came when she was featured in the fashion supplement of The New
York Times in 1967. A year later, she was the first African-American model
to appear on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal.
Pearl Bailey (1918-1990) was an award-winning actress and
singer. Among her most important awards are a Tony Award for starring in the
all-black production of Hello, Dolly! in
1968 and a Daytime Emmy Award.
performed in numerous films, TV shows and Broadway plays for almost four decades.
She received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 1976.
(1949-2014) was an
activist for better housing for the African-American community. She was active
around St Louis, Missouri.
She started advocating for better housing
from a very young age, leading a nine-month rent strike which involved more
than twenty-two thousand tenants who were living in intolerable conditions. She
eventually set up the first tenant management association in the city, which
rehabilitated and managed the Cochran Gardens Housing Project, greatly
improving the living conditions of thousands.
Evers-Williams (b. 1933) is a civil rights activist
and journalist, who served as chairwoman of the NAACP. She delivered the
invocation at President Obama’s second inauguration.
She worked for the desegregation of schools
and voter registration in her native state of Mississippi. After her husband,
also an activist, was killed by a white supremacist in 1963, she sought justice
for him for more than three decades.