Katherine G. Johnson, Physicist, Space Scientist, and Mathematician

 In this MAKERS interview, Katherine G. Johnson talks about her early affinity for mathematics, a college professor who noticed her gift and pushed her to pursue advanced math courses and how she eventually became a NASA mathematician who calculated, among many other computations, the trajectory for the space flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space; John Glenn, the first American to orbit earth; and Apollo 11, the first human mission to the moon.

Charlotte Ray, First African-American Attorney


Charlotte E. Ray, the first African American woman to practice law in the United States, was born on January 13, 1850 in New York City, New York. Ray spent her first years in New York City but by 1850 her parents had moved to Washington, D.C. where she entered the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth, the only school in the Washington, D.C. area that allowed African American girls to become pupils. Her ambition instead was to attend the Howard University's law school. Howard University's Law School, however, discouraged women from enrolling and Ray was forced to apply under the name “C.E. Ray” to disguise her gender. University officials reluctantly accepted her application. Ray matriculated at the law school for three years, from 1869 to 1872 where she concentrated on commercial law. Upon completion of the program in 1872 Ray became the first black woman to graduate from an American law school and receive a law degree. In fact she was only the third American woman of any race to complete law school. 

Bayard Rustin, Civil Rights Activist

Bayard Rustin was a civil rights organizer and activist, best known for his work as adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s and '60s. Bayard Rustin was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on March 17, 1912. A master strategist and tireless activist, Bayard Rustin is best remembered as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, one of the largest nonviolent protests ever held in the United States. Combining non-violent resistance with organizational skills, he was a key adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. Though he was arrested several times for his own civil disobedience and open homosexuality, he continued to fight for equality.

Vilma Socorro Martinez, Attorney

Vilma S. Martínez was the first woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to Argentina. She has a long history of straddling the worlds of corporate boardrooms and legal defense of minorities.  One of the leading voices in Hispanic civil rights since the 1970s, Martínez has run the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and been a part of legal fights on behalf of both documented and undocumented immigrants from Latin America.

Dalip Singh Saund: Civil Rights Leader

Dalip Singh Saund made history in 1956 when he became the first Asian elected to Congress. Born in India in 1899, Saund came to the United States in 1920 to study at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a doctorate degree in mathematics. Despite being highly educated, Saund discovered that his career options were limited due to anti-immigrant feelings in the U.S. As a result, he worked in farming for the next 20 years. At the same time, Saund began fighting discriminatory laws against Indians. In 1949, he and other Indians finally earned the right to become U.S. citizens. In 1956, Saund left the fields of California for the halls of Congress. He served three terms in the House of Representatives, working to improve U.S.-Asian relations.

Harvey Gantt, Architect & South Carolina Mayor

Harvey B. Gantt, architect and politician, was born January 14, 1943 in Charleston, South Carolina to Christopher and Wilhelmenia Gantt. In 1961, Gantt attended Iowa State University. After one year of study, he returned to South Carolina and soon afterwards sued to enter racially segregated Clemson University. On January 16, 1963, the U.S. Court of Appeals ordered Clemson to admit Gantt who became its first African American student. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Clemson with honors in 1965. In 1970, Gantt earned a M.A. in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Jennifer Finney Boylan, Writer & Activist

Jennifer Finney Boylan is an American author and political activist. Her 2003 memoir, She’s Not There: a Life in Two Genders (Broadway/Doubleday/Random House) was the first bestselling work by a transgender American. A novelist, memoirist, and short story writer, she is also a nationally known advocate for civil rights. Jenny has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show on four occasions; Live with Larry King twice; the Today Show,the Barbara Walters Special, NPR’s Marketplace and Talk of the Nation; she has also been the subject of documentaries on CBS News’ 48 Hours and The History Channel.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Writer, Journalist, Educator

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an American writer, journalist, and educator. Coates is a National Correspondent for The Atlantic, where he writes about cultural, social and political issues, particularly as regards African-Americans. “This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

Cesar Chavez, Human Rights Leader

Cesar Chavez was one of the founders of United Farm Workers. Born in 1927, he spent most of his life struggling to organize farmers and work to bring respect, dignity, justice, and fair treatment to the poor. In the early 1990s Chavez continued to fight human rights and safety. He spoke at many rallies and colleges throughout the United States to spread a message for pesticide-free produce. In 1994, Chavez was given the presidential medal of freedom by President Clinton.

Cruz Reynoso, Judge & Civil Rights Leader

Cruz Reynoso was the first Hispanic person to sit on the California Supreme Court. Appointed in 1982, his service marked reforms including extended environmental protections, civil liberties, and the rights of criminal defendants. Reynoso has served as the director of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, the associate general counsel to the US Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, as vice chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights, as a member of the Select Commission on Immigration and Human Rights, and on numerous other panels and boards. For his efforts in extending legal equality, President Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation’s highest civilian honor.