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Four of the First Black Explorers

Posted on February 05 2021

Four of the First Black Explorers

Mae Jemison

Photo via the public domain

Mae Jemison (1956- )

Mae Jemison is a doctor, engineer, and most famously, a NASA astronaut—when she joined the 1992 expedition on the Endeavor, she became the first Black woman to travel to space. She worked as a mission specialist, meaning her job was to conduct crew-related scientific experiments on the space shuttle. Aboard the Endeavor, she and her crew spent eight days in space and made 127 orbits around the Earth. Since then, Dr. Jemison has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and International Space Hall of Fame.



Photo via Prairie View A&M University

Esteban (?-1539)

Esteban, also known as Estevan, Estevanico, Esteban the Moor, and Esteban de Dorantes, was the first non-native person to visit the Indigenous people of modern-day Arizona and New Mexico. He was an enslaved African man, the property of Andrés Dorantes, who led the Narváez Expedition of 1527. When the expedition shipwrecked on the coast of Texas, only Esteban and three others survived. They spent the next eight years wandering the Southwest U.S., learning the languages and cultures of the Indigenous people in the region.


The Voyager King


Photo via Ancient

Mansa Abubakari II. (Early 1300s)

Mansa Abubakari II, the “Voyager King,” was the ruler of Mali in the 14th century, and his obsession with westward expansion eventually led him to abdicate the throne to lead an expedition to the New World. According to reports by his brother and successor, Musa, Abubakari II loaded 2,000 ships to sail the Atlantic Ocean in 1311. But whether his mission was successful or not is still up for debate: his ships disappeared, and he never returned to Mali.  


Sophia Danenberg


Photo via

Sophia Danenberg (1972- )

Sophia Danenberg is the first Black woman to summit Mt. Everest, a feat she completed on May 19, 2006. By 2006, Danenberg had already summited Mt. Rainier, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and Mt. McKinley (now Denali), so she set off to complete Everest. Mountaineering is a sport that famously lacks diversity — Danenberg said in 2018 that people in South America, Africa, and Asia are always “so happy to see another brown person trekking and climbing.” Danenberg wants to be, and is, a role model for people of color in the mountaineering and climbing communities. 



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