Amidst the chaos of the past two years, more and more people are finally beginning to face the full extent of systemic racism. Black women in history, however, are evidently well-versed in the realm of activism, empowerment, racism, and sexism — sans the black square photos on IG. Black Women activists over the ages sparked protests, marches, vigils while taking the much-deserved title of Black female role models we should all be admiring.
Long before Michelle Obama or Serena Williams was on a mission to break stereotypes, the first influential Black women in history aspire to change, shaping society what it is today. There is ample evidence that by remembering significant Black figures and educating ourselves on Black women activists, future generations will get the opportunity to understand the collective and protracted struggle we all had to face. In the words of the late writer Albert Murray used to say when referring to our complex cultural legacy, “reject the folklore of white supremacy and the fakelore of Black pathology.”
Important Black women activists in history
From the origins of anti-rape activism in the U.S, and important Black women activists in the United States who championed gender equity to one of the most widely recognized abolitionists and women’s rights speeches in American history, ahead is a list of the most significant female Black figures we all need to know.
As Christina Sharpe, author of In The Wake: On Blackness and Being, pointed out, Black women, have always looked out for each other. That’s evident when we look back to the origins of anti-rape activism in the U.S.
In 1866, a group of influential Black women in history testified before Congress about their tremendous gang-raped by white men while the Memphis Riot was in full mode. The offenders were not punished, leading to brave activists like Fannie Barrier Williams and Ida B. to establish and participate in an array of campaigns to end sexual violence against Black women. Thanks to these Black women activists, decades later in the 1970s, the era that’s now known as the “third peak” in anti-rape activism, we see the first rape crisis centers and a spark in college campus activism.
Isabella Baumfree, one of the most emblematic Black female role models, was born in slavery and gained her freedom during the 1820s. Baumfree has taken on many new jobs to support herself, including selling a book written by Olive Gilbert, “Narrative of Sojourner Truth: a Northern Slave, Emancipated from Bodily Servitude by the State of New York in 1828. Some decades later, in the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention, Sojourner Truth spoke from the heart, offering one of the most widely recognized abolitionists and women’s rights speeches in American history called “Ain’t I a Woman?”. When we look back at influential Black women activists, Isabella Baumfree’s journey throughout the North preaching human rights and women’s rights is definitely worth celebrating.
Mary McLeod Bethune
For Black female role models like Mary McLeod Bethune, education was a huge part of their cause. It didn’t take long for Mary to realize that young Black children didn’t have the same opportunities, particularly in the South. In a great effort to go to school while also working on a plantation to help support her family, she became an educator and, in 1904, founded the Daytona Educational and Industrial Institute for Girls.
Later on, she entered the political activism space where she also founded the National Council of Negro Women, and worked in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, as the informal “race leader at large,” inspiring other Black women activists to find their voice.
Rosa Parks’ place in influential Black women in history is undeniable. Otherwise known as “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” due to her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott Parks continue to be an active member of the civil rights movement while also participating in voting rights activism.
Ruby Bridges proved that important Black women activists don’t necessarily need to be adults in order to make history. In 1960, at the age of 6, Bridges was the first Black child to racially integrate an all-white elementary school in the South. However, her journey was far from an easy one. On her first day of school at William Frantz Elementary School in the state of Louisiana, four federal marshals had to escort her through an enraged crowd of white parents and students.
Fannie Lou Hamer
For fellow Black women activists, Hamer’s remarkable efforts to fight for civil rights were a beacon of hope. She fought for African Americans’ right to vote and even went out of her way to help them to register. Hamer’s mission to fight against racial segregation and violent voter suppression in the South led her to work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee while also being one of the founders of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
Chisholm will forever be written in history as the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1968. She served for 14 years as one of the most vocal Black women activists advocating for early education and child welfare policies. In 1972, she decided to run for president which made her the first-ever Black candidate to run for a prominent party nomination with the memorable campaign slogan,“unbought and unbossed.” When it comes to influential Black women in history, Chisholm’s efforts to help and empower the community are pretty evident. She was also one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971, as well as the Congressional Women’s Caucus in 1977.
There were only a few stellar examples of how Black women activists helped transform and shape the society we live in today. Black History month might be over, but our continuous effort to educate ourselves on the most influential Black women in history knows no limits. Don’t forget to check out our list of the Top Podcasts to Get Educated On Black History. As always HGC apparel will continue to raise awareness and highlight the most important parts of our culture.