Black HERstory Month Remembering the contributions of black women for Black History Month
Sojourner Truth • Sojourner was born into slavery with the name Isabella Baumfree. She changed her name after escaping from her owner and became a Christian preacher while living with a family in New York. After the state’s Emancipation Act was passed, she became a vehement and vocal supporter of abolition and women’s rights. She traveled the country giving speeches, including a famous one entitled Ain’t I a Woman? that emphasized the strength and power of women and the need for equality between the sexes.
Harriet Tubman • Like Sojourner, Harriet was born into slavery and found a means of escape with the help of her abolitionist neighbors. In 1849, she fled her slave life in Maryland and found respite in Philadelphia. There she formulated a plan to liberate the rest of her family by way of the Underground Railroad, a system that involved moving slaves from one safe house to another under rigid secrecy. She was able to free her family and numerous other slaves throughout the years, taking them as far as Canada and helping them find safe jobs. Later, she worked as a nurse during the Civil War and was a proponent of both women’s suffrage and the abolitionist movement.
Maya Angelou • Before she was celebrated for her poems and autobiographical texts like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya was a nightclub singer and dancer who toured Europe. She settled in New York and became part of the burgeoning black writing scene in Harlem. After moving to Ghana to teach at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama, she met Malcolm X and collaborated with him on bringing equality and unity to America. She returned to the U.S. and was involved with the Civil Rights Movement, working closely with Martin Luther King Jr. She continues to inspire others and promote change through her writing and public speaking.
Oprah Winfrey • Early in her career, Oprah was the protégée of Maya Angelou; they are open about their close bond, likening it in one article to a “sister-mother-daughter-friendship.” Now Oprah is one of the richest and most powerful people in America. Her vast influence on the women in this country is remarkable and a testament to the strength and kindness of her character. She uses her resources and celebrity to enact positive change in communities worldwide, such as fostering literacy through her book club, building a school in Africa, encouraging others to perform good deeds, and campaigning tirelessly for Obama.
Mary McLeod Bethune • In 1906, a teacher named Mary Bethune built the Daytona Literacy and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls in Florida. Initially a one-woman operation, she enlisted the help of a few community members and sold baked goods to help raise funds for supplies and maintenance. After getting funding from one of the founders of Proctor and Gamble, the school joined forces with an all-boys school in Jacksonville and it became the Bethune-Cookman College. Later, she went on to found the National Council of Negro Women and worked with FDR on minority issues and youth policies.
Mae Jemison • A physician who volunteered with the Peace Corps and the first female African American astronaut, Mae was also the first black woman to go into space. After her 1992 expedition on the Endeavor shuttle, she left NASA and founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence (which sponsors science camps for kids), as well as companies involved in scientific and technological research. Currently, she is a professor at Cornell University and strongly involved in the science community.
Zora Neale Hurston • Zora was a boisterous writer who was part of the Harlem Renaissance, a social and cultural movement that explored the experiences of black people in America during the 1920s. She used her background in anthropology at Barnard College to write short stories and essays about African American folklore. Her most famous novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was published in 1937. Because some people disagreed with the way she wrote African American dialogue, her works were not initially as popular as they later became. Now, there is no question of her influence on black female writers like Alice Walker, who wrote an essay about her in 1975.
ShondaRhimes • ESSENCE’s Black Women in Hollywood honoree Rhimesis the first African-American woman to create and executive-produce a top 10 primetime television series with ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy; she’s also the woman behind Private Practice and is currently developing Scandal, starring Kerry Washington. She is a Dartmouth graduate.
Shirley Chisholm • In 1968, Shirley became the first black Congresswoman and in 1972, she became the first black woman to contend for the presidential office. She used her time in Congress and on the campaign trail to voice her opinions on women’s and civil rights, giving a public voice to many of the grassroots campaigns she was involved in prior to her election.
Kimora Lee Simmons • Not content to just be her ex-hubby Russell Simmons’ arm candy, fashion model turned entrepreneur Kimora Lee Simmons was at the helm of influential urban brand Baby Phat for 10 years before walking away to launch the KLS Collection and KLS Design Group in 2011.
Angela Davis • Angela has worn many hats in her lifetime—university professor, writer, public speaker—but she is best known for her political activism with the Black Panthers, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Community, and the Civil Rights Movement. She ran into legal trouble when it was suspected she helped Black Panther George Jackson escape from prison, but was eventually released from jail when the evidence against her failed to prove her involvement. She continues to lecture and write about human rights and equality. Currently
Rosa Parks • This list wouldn’t be complete without including Rosa Parks, the woman who refused to give up her bus seat in 1955 and sparked a movement that led to the end of segregation. Her courageous act fueled the Civil Rights Movement and inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. to get involved. Along with MLK, Jr., she continues to inspire those who still fight for equality.
Ella Baker • While we’re constantly reminded of the civil rights leaders who worked in front, those who were behind the scenes often go unrecognized. Ella Baker is one of those people. An active civil rights leader in the 1930s, Ms. Baker fought for civil rights for five decades, working alongside W.E.B Dubois, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King, Jr. She even mentored well-known civil rights activist, Rosa Parks
SeptimaPoinsette Clark • Known as the “Grandmother of the American Civil Rights Movement,” Clark was an educator and civil rights activist who played a major role in the voting rights of African-Americans. In 1920, while serving as an educator in Charleston, Clark worked with the NAACP to gather petitions allowing blacks to serve as principals in Charleston schools. Their signed petitions resulted in the first black principal in Charleston. Clark also worked tirelessly to teach literacy to black adults. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter awarded her a Living Legacy Award in 1979.
Fannie Lou Hamer • Coining the phrase, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Fannie Lou Hamer was a voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Hamer stood firm in her religious beliefs, often quoting them in her fight for civil rights.
Toni Morrison • She is one of the greatest writers of the 20thand 21st centuries, known for chronicling the history and experiences of Black America. She became the first African-American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, and the Swedish Academy described her as a writer “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” Her novel Beloved also won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Michelle Obama • Michelle Obama, a Harvard Law School graduate, is the first African-American First Lady of the United States. Obama is a major advocate for poverty awareness and healthy eating. When people ask First Lady Michelle Obama to describe herself, she doesn't hesitate to say that first and foremost, she is Malia and Sasha's mom.
Condoleezza Rice • Condoleezza Rice was the first female African-American secretary of state, serving under the administration of President George W. Bush. Prior to joining the Bush administration, Rice served as Provost of Stanford University from 1993 to 1999.
Josephine Baker • Born into poverty in Missouri in 1906, Josephine Baker was of African American and Apalachee Indian origin, and she quickly reached great success and fame. Josephine Baker is often considered to be the first black female star. But aside from her dancing, she was a very intelligent woman who evolved in high Parisian circles. She joined the Red Cross, aided the French Resistance during the Second World War, and opened a château in the Dordogne where she welcomed children from all over the world.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a Liberian politician and economist. After studying in the United States, including at Harvard, she became Assistant Minister of Finance followed by Minister of Finance on her return to Liberia. In 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first woman to be elected president of an African state, following elections organized by the UN. On the 7th October 2011, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf received the Nobel Peace Prize, which she shares with two other women, LeymahGbowee and Tawakkul Karman, for their pacifist commitment in favor of male-female equality.
Wilma Rudolph • Rudolph is a true survivor and American sporting hero. Despite having suffered from polio and a range of other life-threatening sicknesses, she became a triple Olympic gold medal winner in track and field. This achievement led her to become one of the most celebrated female athletes of all time. In addition, her celebrity caused gender barriers to be broken in previously all-male track and field events.
Coretta Scott King • Five years have passed since the death of the Civil Rights pioneer, Coretta Scott King, but her legacy lives on. After the death of her husband, the great Martin Luther King Jr., King became a prominent figure in the Civil Rights and Womens’ Rights Movement, advising the nation’s leadership and pursuing the causes of her late husband. In later years she actively opposed Apartheid in South Africa and became involved in the LGBT movement by urging Civil Rights activists to reject homophobia and the dehumanization of all minorities.
Gwendolyn Brooks • Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African-American to win the Pulitzer prize for poetry following the release of her second book. She went on to publish over twenty texts and became well known in her home state of Illinois, and across the country for her outstanding contribution to American literature.
AudreLorde • A self-styled "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," writer AudreLorde dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing the injustices of racism, sexism, and homophobia. While the widespread critical acclaim bestowed upon Lorde for discussing her marginalized identities made her a target of those opposed to her radical agenda, and yet she continued, undaunted, to express her individuality, refusing to be silenced.
Wanda Sykes • Comedian and Actress Wanda Sykes came out at a rally in Las Vegas on November 15, 2008 as part of the national day of protest against California's anti-gay Prop 8, Wanda Sykes announced, "I am proud to be gay!" She also told of marrying her girlfriend on October 25th 2008.
Barbara Smith • Born in December 16, 1946 in Cleveland, Ohio, Smith is an American lesbian feminist who has played a significant role in building and sustaining Black Feminism in the United States. Since the early 1970s she has been active as a critic, teacher, lecturer, author, scholar, and publisher of Black feminist thought.
Lorraine Hansberry • Hansberry was born on May 19, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois. She wrote A Raisin in the Sun, a play about a struggling black family, which opened on Broadway to great success. Hansberry was the first black playwright and the youngest American to win a New York Critics’ Circle award. Throughout her life she was heavily involved in civil rights. She died at 34 of pancreatic cancer.
Patricia Bath • Doctor Patricia Bath, an ophthalmologist from New York, was living in Los Angeles when she received her first patent, becoming the first African American female doctor to patent a medical invention. Patricia Bath's patent was for a method for removing cataract lenses that transformed eye surgery by using a laser device making the procedure more accurate.
Janet Mock • Mock is a transgender writer and advocate, who publicly shared her teenage transition story in Marie Claire and a video testimony for the It Gets Better project in 2011. Janet, who’s committed to challenging society’s limited portrait of womanhood, was named The Grio’s 100 most influential people, Sundance Channel‘s Top 10 LGBT voices, and GBM News’ 15 Most Powerful LGBT Figures in 2012. She can next be seen in the documentary The LGBTQQA List by famed photographer and director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders in June 2013.
Whitney Houston • Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born into a musical family on 9 August 1963, in Newark, New Jersey, the daughter of gospel star Cissy Houston, cousin of singing star Dionne Warwick and granddaughter of soul legend Aretha Franklin. In 2009, Guinness World Records cited her as the most awarded female act of all time. She was one of the world’s best-selling artists, having sold over 170 million albums, singles, and videos.
Brought to you by:The Women’s Resource Center • The purpose of the Women's Resource Center is to create a campus environment where women will thrive. We are a dynamic and engaged learning community committed to social justice and working for equity for all people. We support women on campus and the larger community. • UMC 416, 303-492-2703 • http://www.colorado.edu/WomensResourceCenter/ • ‘Like’ us on Facebook! • W Tree