Thomas Jennings was the first African American to receive a patent, on March 3, 1821. His patent was for a dry-cleaning process called “dry scouring”. The first money Thomas Jennings earned from his patent was spent on the legal fees necessary to liberate his family out of slavery and support the abolitionist cause
Eugene Jacques Bullard Born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1894, stowed away to Europe as a teenager, earning money as a prizefighter and interpreter. When World War I erupted he joined the French army and ultimately became the world’s first black fighter pilot. He later married the daughter of a French countess, opened a nightclub in Paris and hobnobbed with the likes of Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong and Ernest Hemingway.
100 years before Rosa Parks there was Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911). She was an author, poet and abolitionist. Born free in Baltimore, she had a prolific career, publishing her first book of poetry at age 20 and her first novel (Iola Leroy) at age 67. In 1850, she became the first woman to teach sewing at the Union Seminary. In 1851, she helped blacks along the Underground Railroad en route to Canada, running from the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.