Living

The new black pioneers

Updated 12:06 PM ET, Mon February 1, 2016
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Zora Neale Hurston, right, is lauded as one of the most important writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Her work as an author was strongly influenced by her anthropological studies of the Caribbean and the American South. Today, director Ava DuVernay carries on the tradition of mixing art with cultural documentation. Her 2014 historical biopic "Selma" was nominated for an Academy Award. In honor of Black History Month, we are highlighting African Americans in the arts, science and business who have carried on the legacy of past innovators in their fields. Robin Beck/Getty Images/Carl Van Vechten/LOC
American choreographer Katherine Dunham, right, was a pioneering modern dancer who brought the anthropological study of black dance to high art in the 1940s and '50s. Her self-supported black dance company honed the talents of Eartha Kitt and Alvin Ailey. Today, choreographer and dancer Bill T. Jones continues to bring the African-American roots of modern dance to the most recognized levels of high art. Aside from earning the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the arts world's largest endowments, Jones has won the MacArthur Genius award, multiple Tony awards and a Kennedy Center Honor. Frederick M. Brown/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
W. E. B. Du Bois, right, was the first African-American to earn a doctorate degree from Harvard University. A writer and champion of civil rights (he was a co-founder of the NAACP), Du Bois was also an educator who thought the advantage of a higher education was paramount for African-Americans. Educator Geoffrey Canada carries on Du Bois' tradition as the president of Harlem Children's Zone in Manhattan. His mission is to increase high school and college graduation rates of Harlem students. WARREN TODA/WPA/Landov/MPI/Getty Images
Madam C. J. Walker, right, was a beauty pioneer who became a self-made millionaire (and possibly the first African-American woman millionaire) from her home-made shampoo and scalp remedies. She toured the country lecturing and educating others about her grooming techniques and hair care formulations. Make-up artist Pat McGrath, who is British rather than African-American, is the heir to Walker's creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. Her signature use of color has caught the attention of designers like Jil Sander and photographers such as Steven Meisel and Helmut Newton. She is the global creative design director for Procter and Gamble, in charge of make up brands like Cover Girl and Max Factor. Evan Agostini/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Bessie Coleman, right, was not only the first African-American woman to become a licensed pilot but also the first African-American to hold an international pilot's license. NASA flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho carried on the tradition of pioneering flight as NASA's first African-American space shuttle flight director. He served as the lead space shuttle flight director for the last shuttle flight in 2011. Devin Boldt/NASA/Fotosearch/Getty Images
Maggie L. Walker, right, knew how to run a business. Almost 20 years before women had the right to vote in the U.S., she chartered a bank, a newspaper and a store. Following Walker's trailblazing footsteps, businesswoman Mellody Hobson began her career as an intern at Ariel Investments, one of the largest black-owned money management investment companies in the country. In 2000, she became the company's president. She's chairman of the board of DreamWorks Animation and chairman of After School Matters, a non-profit that provides after-school programs to Chicago teens. She's also a director of Starbucks and Estee Lauder. Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for The Jackie Robinson Foundation/NPS
A self-taught scientist and astronomer who hobnobbed with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Banneker was a free black American who was a prolific almanac writer. He based his almanacs on his own astronomical, tidal and bee movement calculations. Popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson also loves science. He is the director of the Hayden Planetarium, won the NASA Exceptional Public Service Medal and frequently appears on satirical news and late-night talk shows to discuss the universe. Matthew Staver/Landov/LOC
Sojourner Truth, right, was one of the most outspoken abolitionists and women's rights advocates in U.S. history. After escaping slavery, she became the first African-American to win back her son from her former slave owner in a court of law. Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, continues to fight for African-American rights. Ifill is a nationally recognized expert on voting rights and election analysis known for her work in judicial diversity and impartiality in decision-making. Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Getty Images/MPI/Getty Images
Jazz legend Charles Mingus, right, was a double-bassist and composer who stretched the boundaries of improvisational and big band jazz from the 1950s through the 1970s. After learning to play the trombone and then the cello, Mingus applied his natural skill to the bass and soon was recognized as a prodigy. Bassist Esperanza Spalding follows Mingus' path of jazz ambassadorship. A gifted musician who taught herself to play the violin, Spalding received a full scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston as a teenager and is the only jazz artist to win a Grammy for best new artist. She was asked to perform at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Concert by Nobel laureate President Barack Obama. Frederick J. Brown/Getty Images/David Redfern/Redferns
Harlem Renaissance photographer James Van Der Zee, right, was famous for the artistic vision he employed through photographs of everyday African-American life in New York. He developed double exposure techniques and a method of editing photograph negatives that lent a spirit of glamor and perfection to his portraits of New York's emerging black middle class. New York artist Kehinde Wiley continues to represent African-Americans in formal and dignified ways. He is known for painting photorealistic urban subjects within the environments of historic, heroic paintings, blurring the lines between traditional and contemporary sensibilities. Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for PUMA/Nancy R. Schiff/Hulton Archive/Getty Images