From one week known as “Negro History Week” in 1926, established by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, to being celebrated as Black History Month in 1976, February is a time of national recognition of black history and accomplishments. It is a month dedicated for us to deliberately and consciously learn about our American history.
Too often are African-Americans overlooked in this nation’s history. Growing up, my knowledge of black history was just the “popular/familiar” African- Americans. You know, Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, and Maya Angelou.
As I kept reading and learning, I could see that African-American history was a story with a mysterious narrative that changed based on the storyteller. Some storytellers leaped right over pivotal essential parts of America’s story. I had to go on my own research expeditions to learn more about black history in America. As I began to read and learn, I began to ask myself, “Where are the women?” I saw their pictures. I saw their husbands. I saw their work, but I didn’t see them being celebrated.
I would be remiss not to celebrate these African-American women who have made history. Woman that have shown the world that being a black women is a showcase of beauty, strength, intelligence, resilience, motherhood, sisterhood, unity, and power. We take a moment to celebrate 14 amazing African-American women.
A treasured and favorite sitcom was directed by the amazing Debbie Allen. In 1988, she became the director of A Different World, and helped turn it into a Top 20 television hit. Miss Allen began on Broadway in 1971 and earned a Tony Award nomination for her role in “West Side Story.” Debbie Allen served as director, producer, and choreographer of the TV series FAME. She has earned several awards including two Emmys and one Golden Globe. To learn more about her current role in theater and dance, visit her website.
You may not have heard of Ursala Burns, but she is definitely someone you need to know. Mrs. Burns is the first black woman to head a Fortune 500 company, Xerox. She was the former president of Xerox Corporation. According to Xerox, for the first time a female chief executive replaced another female chief executive at a Fortune 500 company. Ursala Burns received a Bachelor of Science degree from Polytechnic Institute of New York in 1980 and a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University in 1981. Mrs. Burns is also married and a mother of two.
Shirley Chisholm, a woman of many firsts. The first African-American congresswoman in 1968 representing New York. The first major-party black candidate to make a bid for the U.S. presidency. Miss Chisholm is known to have fought for education opportunities and social justice. She was an unprecedented political powerhouse for women and people of color.
Currently a tenured professor and author at University of California at Santa Cruz, Angela Davis had quite the route to get there. She joined the U.S. Communist Party and was jailed for charges related to a prison outbreak, though ultimately cleared. Miss Davis has gone on to be a dynamic activist and orator for equality. Check out her interview regarding gender equality, prison reform, and race relations. Angela Davis is an author of many published works focusing on race, class, and gender.
Source: Huffington Post
Fannie Lou Townsend was born in rural Montgomery County, Mississippi in1917. She married and gained the name Hamer then became the adoptive mother to four children. An advocate for voting rights, she was a Democratic National Committee Representative from 1968-1971. She ran for the Mississippi State Senate in 1964 and was the first ever African-American woman from Mississippi to do so. While campaigning, she gave a speech where she said. “All my life I’ve been sick and tired. Now I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She went on to receive honorary PhD’s from several universities including Howard University. Mrs. Hamer’s courage and perseverance have made a impact on this nation’s history.
The amazing author, Miss Zora Neale Hurston, graduated from college with several published short stories and articles. Her most famous piece Their Eyes Were Watching God, was published in 1937. Other books include Tell My Horse, her study of Caribbean Voodoo practices, Moses, Man of the Mountain, and her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road. Zora Hurston was respected amongst her peers and generations to come leading to her being profiled in Who’s Who in America, Current Biography and Twentieth Century Authors.
Coretta Scott King was more than the wife of civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. She was a civil rights activist in her own right. Alongside Dr. King, she participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and was helpful in the passing of the Civil Rights Act. Mrs. King founded the Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta and authored My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1969. She recieved honorary doctorates from over 60 colleges and universities; authored three books and a nationally-syndicated newspaper column; and served on and helped found dozens of organizations. Without her persistent lobbying and rallying, we may not celebrate Martin Luther King Day as we know it.
Jedidiah Isler became the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Yale; completing an award-winning study that examines the physics of particle jets emanating from supermassive black holes at the centers of distant galaxies. Miss Isler was part of the Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s to Ph.D. Program, which aims to increase the number of doctorates among students of color in
STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.
“Blues are the songs of despair. Gospel songs are the songs of hope. When you sing gospel you have the feeling there is a cure for what’s wrong, but when you are through with the blues, you’ve got nothing to rest on.” –Mahalia Jackson.
Miss Jackson had a voice that demanded your attention. Her singing communicated faith and hope during dark times of despair. Harry Belafonte called her “the single most powerful black woman in the United States… the woman-power for the grass roots.” What would the Civil Rights sound like? Mahalia Jackson.
The First Lady of the United States is Michelle Obama. Princeton University and Harvard Law School grad, Michelle Obama wears multiple hats. As first lady, she has focused her attention on current social issues. Mrs. Obama launched the Reach Higher Initiative, an effort to inspire young people across America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school, whether at a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university. The First Lady also spearheaded the Let’s Move initiative to combat childhood and generational obesity. The mother to Sasha and Malia, Mrs. Obama is a woman of style, class, and grace.
Betty Sanders also known as Betty X also known as Betty Shabazz. She was most well-known as the wife of Malcolm X. After his assassination, she raised their six daughters and completed undergraduate and doctorate degrees. She became an associate professor of health sciences at New York’s Medgar Evers College. The epitome of a strong woman, Dr. Betty Shabazz educated many until her death in 1997.
Born Isabella Baumfree, Sojourner Truth became a Pentecostal preacher that brought her in contact with abolitionists and women’s rights crusaders. She became a powerful speaker on both subjects. She wrote The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, which detailed her suffering as a slave. Her speeches were not political, but were based on her unique interpretation-as a woman and a former slave with “Ain’t I a Woman?” being her most recognized.
Truth embodied a fact that still bears repeating: Among blacks are women; among the women, there are blacks. –Nell Painter.
Ida B. Wells was a voice to be reckoned with regarding women’s suffrage. She worked to resist segregated schools in Chicago. While in Chicago, she married then shortly after moved to Memphis. After moving to Memphis, she became a co-owner and editor of The Free Speech and Headlight, a local black newspaper. Mrs. Wells-Barnett authored several pieces on violence against blacks, disfranchisement, poor schools, and the failure of black people to fight for their rights. She assisted in founding the National Association of Colored Women.
A wave of activism has swept across our nation. Any recent image regarding the movements from city to city have very strong front runners; women. The beauty of this leadership is that there is not just one woman gathering, strategizing, and organizing, but several. They must be praised for their courageous actions on the behalf of others. These women are working hard to ensure liberty and justice for all.
Excerpt from “Still I Rise”
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise. –Maya Angelou
I am sincerely grateful for each of the women listed, and the example they have set. I am grateful for them opening doors and blazing paths to show me it can be done, thank you. Thank you for setting an example of class, grace, and intelligence. Thank you for being the standard of beauty that is not celebrated in media. Thank you for having the courage to create and share your gifts despite constant criticism. Thank you for being a pillar in your family and making houses homes. Thank you for always finding strength to rise.
My mother, grandmothers, aunts, sister, cousins, and friends inspire me. Learn and celebrate the black women around you. Learn their stories. Pass them on. Here’s to making more history, black women.