Celebrating Women of the Culture
This Women’s History Month, we want to pay homage to 23 African-American women who have impacted change over the years. They have either created opportunities or have given us hope to fight for our goals and dreams. This year we’d like to honor the following:
THOSE WHO BEGUN THE FIGHT
Sojourner Truth, (born Isabella [Belle] Baumfree; c. 1797 – November 26, 1883) was an African American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, New York, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son in 1828, she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man.
Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross, c. March 1822 – March 10, 1913) was an American abolitionist and political activist. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and for over 11 years, she returned repeatedly to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, rescuing some 70 slaves in about 13 expeditions, including her other brothers, Henry, Ben, and Robert, their wives and some of their children. She also provided specific instructions to 50 to 60 additional fugitives who escaped to the north using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. During the American Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army. In her later years, Tubman was an activist in the struggle for women’s suffrage.
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (September 24, 1825 – February 22, 1911) was an abolitionist, suffragist, poet, teacher, public speaker, and writer, one of the first African American women to be published in the United States. Harper founded, supported, and held high office in several national progressive organizations. In 1883 she became superintendent of the Colored Section of the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Women’s Christian Temperance Union. In 1894 she helped found the National Association of Colored Women and served as its vice president. Harper died aged 85 on February 22, 1911, nine years before women gained the right to vote.
Sarah Breedlove (December 23, 1867 – May 25, 1919), known as Madam C. J. Walker, was an American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a political and social activist. Walker was considered the wealthiest African American businesswoman and wealthiest self-made woman in America at the time of her death in 1919.
Walker made her fortune by developing and marketing a line of cosmetics and hair care products for black women through the business she founded, Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company. She became known also for her philanthropy and activism. She made financial donations to numerous organizations and became a patron of the arts.
THOSE WHO PAVED THE WAY
Katherine Johnson (born Creola Katherine Coleman; August 26, 1918 – February 24, 2020), also known as Katherine Goble, was an American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights. During her 35-year career at NASA and its predecessor, she earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks. The space agency noted her “historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist.
Lena Mary Calhoun Horne (June 30, 1917 – May 9, 2010) was an American singer, dancer, actress, and civil rights activist. Horne’s career spanned over 70 years, appearing in film, television, and theater.
Shirley Anita Chisholm (née St. Hill; November 30, 1924 – January 1, 2005) was an American politician, educator, and author. In 1968, she became the first black woman elected to the United States Congress. In 1972, she became the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination for President of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, as well as the first woman to appear in a United States presidential debate.
Coretta Scott King (née Scott; April 27, 1927 – January 30, 2006) was an American author, activist, civil rights leader, and the wife of Martin Luther King Jr. An active advocate for African American equality, she was a leader for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. King was also a singer who often incorporated music into her civil rights work.
Althea Neale Gibson (August 25, 1927 – September 28, 2003) was an American tennis player and professional golfer, and one of the first Black athletes to cross the color line of international tennis. In 1956, she became the first African American to win a Grand Slam title (the French Championships). The following year she won both Wimbledon and the US Nationals (precursor of the US Open), then won both again in 1958, and was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in both years. In all, she won 11 Grand Slam tournaments, including five singles titles, five doubles titles, and one mixed doubles title. Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Annie Johnson; April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014) was an American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim.
THE TRAIL BLAZERS
Chloe Anthony Wofford Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford; February 18, 1931 – August 5, 2019), known as Toni Morrison, was an American novelist, essayist, book editor, and college professor. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. The critically acclaimed Song of Solomon (1977) brought her national attention and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1988, Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved (1987); she gained worldwide recognition when she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.
Aretha Louise Franklin (March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018) was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist. Franklin began her career as a child singing gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, where her father C. L. Franklin was minister. At the age of 18, she embarked on a secular-music career as a recording artist for Columbia Records. By the end of the 1960s, Aretha Franklin had come to be known as “The Queen of Soul”.
Angela Yvonne Davis (born January 26, 1944) is an American political activist, philosopher, academic, and author. She is a professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Ideologically a Marxist, Davis was a member of the Communist Party USA until 1991, after which she joined the breakaway Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. She is the author of over ten books on class, feminism, and the U.S. prison system. She joined the Communist Party and involved herself in a range of leftist causes, including the second-wave feminist movement, the Black Panther Party, and the campaign against the Vietnam War. She is known for her infamous quote, “I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change…I’m changing the things I cannot accept”.
Patti LaBelle (born Patricia Louise Holte; May 24, 1944) is an American singer, songwriter, actress, and businesswoman. LaBelle began her career in the early 1960s as lead singer and front woman of the vocal group, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles. Following the group’s name change to Labelle in the early 1970s, they released the iconic disco song “Lady Marmalade” and the group later became the first African American vocal group to land the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. LaBelle is commonly identified as the “Godmother of Soul”.
Mae Carol Jemison (born October 17, 1956) is an American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut. She became the first black woman to travel into space when she served as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Jemison joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1987 and was selected to serve for the STS-47 mission, during which she orbited the Earth for nearly eight days on September 12–20, 1992.
Condoleezza “Condi” Rice (born November 14, 1954) is an American political scientist, diplomat, civil servant, and professor. She served as the 66th United States Secretary of State, in the administration of President George W. Bush. Rice was the first female African American Secretary of State. She was President Bush’s National Security Advisor during his first term, making her the first woman to serve in that position.
Anita Denise Baker (born January 26, 1958) is an American singer-songwriter. Starting her career in the late 1970s with the funk band Chapter 8, Baker released her first solo album, The Songstress, in 1983. In 1986, she rose to stardom following the release of her platinum-selling second album, Rapture, which included the Grammy-winning single “Sweet Love”. She is regarded as one of the most popular singers of soulful romantic ballads during the height of the quiet storm period of contemporary R&B in the 1980s. As of 2017, Baker has won eight Grammy Awards and has five platinum albums and one gold album.
Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (née Robinson; born January 17, 1964) is an American lawyer, university administrator, and writer, who was the first lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. She is married to the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, and she was the first African American First Lady of the United States.
THE QUEENS OF A NEW ERA
Viola Davis (born August 11, 1965) is an American actress and producer. Having won an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, and two Tony Awards, she is the first black actress or actor to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting. Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2012 and 2017.
Regina Rene King (born January 15, 1971) is an American actress and director. She is the recipient of various accolades, including an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and three Primetime Emmy Awards. Time magazine named King one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2019.
Ava Marie DuVernay (born August 24, 1972) is an American filmmaker and film distributor. She won the directing award in the U.S. dramatic competition at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere, becoming the first black woman to win the award. For her work on Selma (2014), DuVernay became the first black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Director, and also the first black female director to have her film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. In 2017, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film 13th (2016).
Tarana Burke (born September 12, 1973) is a civil rights activist from The Bronx, New York who founded the Me Too movement. In 2006, Burke began using the phrase “Me Too” on social media to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and assault in society. In 2017 #MeToo went viral as a hashtag after women began using it to tweet about the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. The phrase and hashtag quickly developed into a broad-based, and eventually international movement.
Time named Burke, among a group of other prominent activists dubbed “the silence breakers”, as the Time Person of the Year for 2017. Burke presents at public speaking events across the country and is currently Senior Director at Girls for Gender Equity in Brooklyn.
Stacey Yvonne Abrams (born December 9, 1973) is an American politician, lawyer, and author who served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2006 to 2017, and served as minority leader from 2011 to 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, she was the party’s nominee in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election. Abrams was the first African-American female major-party gubernatorial nominee of the United States. In February 2019, she became the first African-American woman to deliver a response to the State of the Union address.
Serena Jameka Williams (born September 26, 1981) is an American professional tennis player and former world No. 1 in women’s single tennis. She has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, the most by any man or woman in the Open Era. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) ranked her world No. 1 in singles on eight separate occasions between 2002 and 2017. She reached the No. 1 ranking for the first time on July 8, 2002. On her sixth occasion, she held the ranking for 186 consecutive weeks. In total, she has been No. 1 for 319 weeks, which ranks third in the Open Era among female players.
Misty Danielle Copeland (born September 10, 1982) is an American ballet dancer for American Ballet Theatre (ABT), one of the three leading classical ballet companies in the United States. On June 30, 2015, Copeland became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in ABT’s 75-year history.
Jo-Issa Rae Diop (born January 12, 1985), known as Issa Rae, is an American actress, writer, and producer. She first garnered attention for her work on the YouTube web series Awkward Black Girl. Since 2011, Rae has continued to develop her YouTube channel, which features various short films, web series, and other content created by people of color. She subsequently gained further recognition for creating, co-writing, and starring in the HBO television series Insecure. For her acting work on Insecure, she has received two Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy and a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Rae has released one memoir, entitled The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.
Gabrielle Christina Victoria Douglas (born December 31, 1995) is an American artistic gymnast. She is the 2012 Olympic all-around champion and the 2015 World all-around silver medalist. She was a member of the gold-winning teams at both the 2012 and the 2016 Summer Olympics. She was also a member of the gold-winning American teams at the 2011 and the 2015 World Championships.
Douglas is the first African American and the first of African descent of any nationality in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion, and the first U.S. gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics.