Eighteenth-century inventor and astronomer Benjamin Banneker was widely known and respected in his time. Most of what he knew, he taught himself. His letter to Thomas Jefferson asked the future president to reconsider his racial prejudices. Later, abolitionists would use Banneker as proof that people of any race can be equally intelligent.
Booker T. Washington rose from his slavery beginnings to become a national leader in education and civil rights. Beginning his career as a teacher and developing into a renowned speaker, Washington's influence is still felt today through Tuskegee University, which he originally founded.
Born into slavery, Frederick Douglass was struck by the unfairness and cruelty of slave life and escaped as a young man to the North. A skilled speaker and writer of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Douglass became a fierce fighter for the end of slavery and later led the early civil rights movement.
As an influential leader in U.S. politics, Condoleezza Rice became one of the foremost authorities on the Soviet Union during the Cold War and served in advisory roles for two presidents. Her intelligence and drive led her to one of the highest-ranking jobs in the White House, secretary of state.
Madam C. J. Walker's skill as a businesswoman and desire to create products for black women drove her to become the first black female millionaire. While improving women's lives with her products, she employed women as sales agents and hair culturists, all while giving back to her community.
Marian Anderson broke through discrimination and racism to become one of the greatest classical singers of all time. Her exceptional talent allowed her to travel to many countries to perform, showing the world firsthand that the color of one's skin does not determine one's talent or inner strength.
Throughout her life, Mary McLeod Bethune worked tirelessly to increase women's opportunities, from education to the military to the right to vote. Her activism led her to the White House as a consultant for several presidents. There, she helped advance important civil rights agendas.