July 25, 2007

Innovators That Have Changed Our World

Snapshots In My Time...
Of My Time.....Hauntings.

African americans have done remarkable things to improve and change our daily lives. Here are just a few of those things:

Katherine Dunham
Beginning in the 1940s, Katherine Dunham traveled the world studying, choreographing, performing and promoting black dance, introducing it to thousands of people of all races. Schooled in both dance and anthropology, Dunham conducted research in the Caribbean and elsewhere in an effort to understand the roots and styles of African-American dance. She then put together routines that reflected the diversity of black dance, performing around the country. Before her death in 2006, Dunham had been the recipient of numerous honors including the Presidential Medal of Arts, French Legion of Honor and the NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award.

Ray Charles
Growing up in southern Georgia and northern Florida in the 1930s, Ray Charles lost his sight but found his talent for music. Over the next half century, he entertained thousands around the world with his blues songs, tinged with elements of jazz, soul and rock 'n' roll. Skilled at the clarinet and saxophone, Charles is best known for his work on the piano, adorned with his omnipresent sunglasses and swaying to the music. A film about his life, "Ray," released shortly after his death in 2004, introduced him to yet another generation.

Miles Davis
Miles Dewey Davis III, the son of an East St. Louis, Illinois, dentist, grew up to be one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. Davis was best known for his natural talents and innovative approach, combining elements from different cultures and genres to produce a fresh, distinctive sound. Music producer Bob Belden once compared Davis to Mozart and Beethoven, calling his most famous work, "Kind of Blue," "the perfect jazz album."

Billie Holiday
Eleanora Fagan made her professional singing debut at 16 years old in a Harlem club, adopting the name "Billie Holiday." Holiday would perform alongside some of America's top musicians, composing tunes that tackled issues like lynching, racism and poverty with wrenching intensity, before dying in 1959 at the age of 44.

Zora Neale Hurston
In the 1920s, a group of African Americans gathered in New York to discuss and reshape their own society's literature, art and attitude. Novelist, anthropologist and playwright Zora Neale Hurston played a central role in the movement, which became known as the Harlem Renaissance. With black luminaries like Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Du Bois, Hurston spoke of the struggles, joys and prospects of African-American society, writing poems, non-fiction works and novels, including 1937's "Their Eyes Were Watching God."

Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison's lyrical writing style, strong female characters and ambitious subject matter thrust her to the forefront of the American literary consciousness. In addition to building a fiercely loyal readership, Morrison's efforts have netted her the 1993 Nobel Prize in literature, a Pulitzer Prize (for "Beloved," 1987) and a National Book Award (for "Song of Solomon," 1977).

Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier set the stage for black actors and directors, rising atop his profession and making strong statements about race in his films. He was the first male African-American actor to win an Oscar (the best actor award for 1963's "Lilies of the Fields"), the first to star as a romantic lead (1961's "Paris Blues") and the first to become the nation's No. 1 box office star (1968). Poitier also addressed the thorny issues of racism, on film and off, appearing in the first mainstream films condoning interracial marriages (in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner") and attacking apartheid ("The Wilby Conspiracy").

Alice Walker
The daughter of sharecropper parents, Alice Walker grew up in rural Eatonton, Georgia, and went on to become one of the most respected women in the civil rights movement and American literature. Her most famous work, "The Color Purple," won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 and was later made into an award-winning movie starring Oprah Winfrey and directed by Steven Spielberg.

Stevie Wonder
"Little Stevie Wonder" jumped into the limelight in the early 1960s and continues to make remarkable music today. His prodigious career -- including 19 Grammy Awards and more than 72 million in record sales -- is full of innovations and techniques that rank him among the best songwriters of the last decades. In addition to his music, Wonder has worked for social and political change -- he was among those who pushed for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday made a federal holiday.

Richard Wright
Born in 1908 in Natchez, Mississippi, Richard Wright wrote several influential books including "Native Son," "Uncle Tom's Children" and "Black Boy," exploring themes about racism and life in the South. Wright was at times criticized for his nonviolent views and Marxist beliefs. Disillusioned with life in the United States, he moved to Europe permanently following World War II.

Benjamin Banneker
George Washington may have been the father of the United States, but the United States can thank Benjamin Banneker for making the city that bears Washington's name. The son of two freed slaves, Banneker grew up in 18th century Maryland on a tobacco farm, where he created an irrigation system that allowed crops to thrive in dry and wet weather. He became a well-known expert in watch-making and repair, astronomy and several other fields. Around the turn of the century, at Thomas Jefferson's request, Banneker joined the planning committee assigned to develop the nation's new capital, Washington, D.C. When architect Pierre L'Enfant left the project (with all his plans) in a huff, Banneker managed to recreate the complete layout from memory.

Ben Carson
Dr. Ben Carson captured worldwide media attention in 1987 for the successful separation of conjoined twins who shared a portion of the same brain. Since then, Carson's work in pediatric medicine contributed to the development of new technologies and made him one of the most notable African-American neurosurgeons in the United States. In addition to his medical career, he has also devoted himself to giving back to the community by encouraging strong morals and education.

George Washington Carver
In 1897, George Washington Carver was named director of agriculture for the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute for Negroes, an all-black school and research institution in Alabama. In a short time, Carver would revolutionize farming and the South. Carver's system of crop rotation -- growing different plants each year on one plot of land -- helped revitalize poor soil. But this was just the start, as Carver invented or bettered dozens of products including adhesives, bleach, buttermilk, cheese, ink, chili sauce, linoleum, mayonnaise, shampoo, shoe polish, shaving cream and peanut butter.

Mae Jemison
A medical doctor, astronaut, philanthropist, activist and businesswoman, Dr. Mae Jemison is a 21st-century Renaissance woman. She is best known as the first black woman to go into space, doing so on the space shuttle Endeavour on September 12, 1992. Jemison is also a social scientist and an advocate for public education and the developing world. After practicing medicine for nearly three years in west Africa, she founded The Jemison Group to research, develop and implement advanced technologies.

Marjorie Stewart Joyner
Before Marjorie Stewart Joyner, every day was basically a bad hair day for millions of women. Her design and patent for a "permanent wave machine" -- a mechanism that set hair in place for days, weeks, sometimes months -- changed cosmetology forever. Born in 1896 in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, Hoyner moved to Chicago, Illinois, to study cosmetology. Hoping to find a way to ensure that a woman's hair looked fresh and vibrant for days after it was cut, Joyner created a dome-like device that sent electrical current to sections of the hair, thus setting it in place for extended periods of time. In 1926, she became the first African-American woman to receive a patent for her invention.

Lewis Latimer
Thomas Edison is widely credited with inventing the electrical light bulb. But few people know that Edison's first bulbs, which relied on bamboo, only lasted for around 30 hours. Long-lasting bulbs, using carbon filaments, were the brainchild of African-American inventor Lewis Latimer and his partner, Joseph V. Nichols. Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, in 1848, Latimer fought briefly in the Civil War before working as an errand boy for a law firm specializing in patents. His skills were quickly recognized and Latimer was soon working with some of the world's most renowned inventors. Latimer helped Alexander Graham Bell draft the blueprints for the telephone, securing the patent hours before a rival inventor. He later joined Edison's team, where he and Nichols improved on Edison's invention and patented the incandescent light bulb with carbon filaments (and a process for manufacturing them) in 1891.

Elijah McCoy
Elijah McCoy made America's trains run faster, farther and more efficiently. McCoy invented a device that allowed trains to be oiled automatically while running. His invention made trains safer and oiling the engines easier, improving the efficiency of America's entire transportation system. McCoy eventually patented his invention in 1872. While many train officials were reluctant to utilize the invention of a black man, many realized that nothing worked as well as the "real McCoy." Not only did McCoy create this catchphrase, he had 57 other inventions (including patents for a lawn sprinkler and ironing board.)

Muhammad Ali
Cassius Marcellus Clay grew up a devout Baptist in Louisville, Kentucky, learning to fight at age 12 after a police officer suggested he learn to defend himself. Six years later, he was an Olympic boxing champion, going on to win three world heavyweight titles. He became known as much for his swagger outside the ring as his movement in it, converting to Islam in 1965, changing his name to Muhammad Ali and refusing to join the U.S. Army on religious grounds. Ali remained popular after his athletic career ended and he developed Parkinson's disease, even lighting the Olympic torch at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and conveying the peaceful virtues of Islam following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Maya Angelou
A prestigious writer, producer and educator, Maya Angelou has established herself as one of the most respected African American voices of her generation. She has penned and starred in several plays, produced TV documentaries, been appointed by U.S. presidents to government committees and written several best-selling titles, including "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and "The Heart of a Woman."

W.E.B. Du Bois
Born William Edward Burghardt Du Bois in 1868, this Massachusetts native was one of the most prominent, prolific intellectuals of his time. An academic, activist and historian, Du Bois co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), edited "The Crisis" magazine and wrote 17 books, four journals and many other scholarly articles. In perhaps his most famous work, "The Souls of Black Folk," published in 1903, he predicted "the problem of 20th century [would be] the problem of the color-line."

Martin Luther King Jr.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is considered one of the most powerful and popular leaders of the American civil rights movement. He spearheaded a massive, nonviolent initiative of marches, sit-ins, boycotts and demonstrations that profoundly affected Americans' attitudes toward race relations. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Malcolm X
Black leader Malcolm X spoke out about the concepts of race pride and black nationalism in the early 1960s. He denounced the exploitation of black people by whites and developed a large and dedicated following, which continued even after his death in 1965. Interest in the leader surged again after Spike Lee's 1992 movie "Malcolm X" was released.

Jackie Robinson
In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first black baseball player in the U.S. major leagues. After retirement from baseball in 1957, he remained active in civil rights and youth activities. In 1962, he became the first African-American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ann Fudge
Ann Fudge is the chairman and CEO of advertising giant Young & Rubicam and also the former president of Kraft's Maxwell House and Post divisions. Her business acumen and forward thinking helped propel her businesses to success, as well as earned her accolades such as being named one of Fortune magazine's "50 Most Powerful Women in American Business."

Earl Graves
Earl G. Graves is the founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, a leading business publication targeting black professionals. Graves, a former Green Beret, once was named by the White House as one of the country's 10 most outstanding minority businessmen. He is a vocal advocate for higher education and has been actively involved in a variety of civic and social causes.

Jesse Jackson
Jesse Jackson is a leading American social and political figure in the movement for justice and democracy. An author and activist, orator, politician and spiritual leader, he campaigned for the 1984 and 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. In 1986, Jackson founded and became president of the National Rainbow Coalition, a national social organization devoted to empowerment, education and mobilization of young people. Jackson began his activism as a student leader in the civil rights sit-in movement and continued as a young organizer in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as an assistant to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Harry H. Pace
In the 1920s, businessman Harry Pace founded the first black-owned music company, Black Swan Records. Five years later, he formed the Northeastern Life Insurance Company, which became one of the largest black-owned businesses during the 1930s. In addition to these, Pace invested in numerous business ventures, such as opening a law firm in Chicago, Illinois, after he received his law degree.

Condoleezza Rice
Condoleezza Rice has achieved several firsts in her life. Born in the segregated South, she became the first female national security adviser in U.S. history in January 2001. Later, in 2005, she was named the first African American woman secretary of state. Rice began her academic career in 1981 at Stanford University, where she became the youngest provost in the institution's history and the first woman and the first African American to hold the position.

Madam C.J. Walker
Businesswoman and philanthropist Madam C.J. Walker was one of the nation's first black female millionaires, beginning her hair care empire in the early 1900s. An advocate of women's economic independence, her hair products manufacturing company employed thousands of women as sales agents and beauty consultants.

Maxine Waters
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, is certainly not afraid of controversy. Among other things, she has been the leading congressional proponent of the claim that the CIA helped fuel the crack cocaine epidemic. But while she is a controversial figure on the national stage, Waters remains beloved in her Southern California district; in 2006, she won election to a ninth term with 83 percent of the vote


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