Originals! Black Women Breaking Barriers

by Jessie Carney Smith, Ph.D.

… provides brief entries on pioneering black women in the US from the early history of the country to the present … groundbreaking and pioneering women in the arts and entertainment, business, civil rights and protests, education, journalism, the military, organizations, politics and government, religion, science and medicine, and sports … individuals like Marian Anderson, Bessie Smith, Misty Copeland, Anna Deavere Smith, Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Madame C.J. Walker, Maggie Lena Walker, Rosa Parks, Ida B. Wells, Michelle Obama, Simone Biles, Kamala Harris, and many others.

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The story of black women in America is one of struggle and obstacles overcome. It is a story of great achievement and soaring heights. Originals! gives readers a way to discover and celebrate the achievements of some of America’s most inspiring women.


Overlooked and underappreciated, African American women have long been relegated to a footnote in America history, but now they are at the forefront of societal, political, and cultural change.

Originals! Black Women Breaking Barriers shines a welcome light on some of America’s most remarkable women, their enduring stories, and 1,400 of their amazing accomplishments!

Honoring and celebrating hundreds of America’s most inspiring women, Originals! supplies a rich record of progress in America from the humble accomplishment in a workplace or the incremental change in small town government to the historic civil rights movers and a renowned elected politician. From the flight attendant who broke the color barrier to Stacey Abrams’s fight for the voting rights of people of color, each is momentous in their own way. The book covers the ground-breaking achievements and lasting legacies of well-known and lesser-known stars, including …

  • Amanda Gorman, inaugural poet
  • Amber Ruffin, writer Late Night with Seth Meyers
  • Juanita Hall, Tony Award winner for her performance in the 1949 Broadway production of South Pacific
  • Eileen Jackson Southern, first Black female tenured professor at Harvard
  • Sarah Boone, patent recipient for an ironing board
  • Patricia Roberts Harris, ambassador to Luxembourg and later an alternate delegate to the United Nations
  • Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm, elected to the House of Representatives
  • Kayla Freeman, pilot in the Alabama National Guard
  • Joann M. Jacobs, firefighter in New York City
  • Tyra Banks, first African American Sports Illustrated cover model
  • Martesha Johnson, Metropolitan Chief Public Defender in Nashville, Tennessee
  • Alexa Irene Canady, first Black woman neurosurgeon in the United States
  • Venus (Ebone Starr) Williams, first Black top-ranked Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) player
  • And many more awe-inspiring accomplishments and amazing heroines!

    Hard-won victories. Barrier-breaking triumphs. Society-changing feats. Explore the vital roles of some of the most impressive women in American history with Originals! Black Women Breaking Barriers. It brings to light much to admire about some extraordinary women who spearheaded change!

  • About Jessie Carney Smith, Ph.D.

    Jessie Carney Smith, born in Greensboro, North Carolina, is a noted author, biographer, and black studies scholar. She is William and Camille Cosby Professor in the Humanities at Fisk University in Nashville, where she also serves as the university librarian. Dr. Smith was educated at North Carolina A&T State University, Michigan State University, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Illinois. Her work includes Black Firsts and Black Heroes, both published by Visible Ink Press, as well as Notable Black American Women (Book I and II) and Notable Black American Men. Among Dr. Smith's numerous awards are the National Women's Book Association Award, the Candace Award for excellence in education, and Sage magazine's Ann J. Cooper Award for her published works on African American Women.

    Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee

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