Throughout history, women are often not as recognized for their contributions to the world as their male counterparts. Celebrating Black History Month and Women's History Month, we are acknowledging the divine feminine power of world-shaping black women. Throughout February and March we will be featuring women who have revolutionized the world by breaking the glass ceiling through their ideas, inventions, strength and fight for equality. Let these powerful women, who have shaped the world we live in today, inspire and motivate you to continue to fight for a more equal and inclusive world. Happy Women's History Month!
Leader, Civil Rights Activist
Diane Judith Nash was born on May 15, 1938 in Chicago, Illinois. Growing up catholic, Nash initially wanted to become a nun, but it wasn't long until time proved she was a born leader. After graduating from Hyde Park High School in Chicago, Illinois in 1956, she began her college career at Howard University, an HBCU in Washington, D.C. before transferring to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Nash had witnessed the full force of Jim Crow laws and their effect on the lives of Blacks while studying at Fisk University. Immediately Nash began to look for a way to challenge segregation, which led her to attending nonviolent civil disobedience workshops led by James Lawson. She began to participate in impromptu sit-ins and display civil disobedience. Because of her growing reputation for speaking eloquently with the press she became the leader of the Nashville sit-ins at 22 years old. In April 1960 Nash was one of the leading founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1961 Nash took over responsibility for the Freedom Rides to the south that challenged the segregation of buses and facilities. She worked to recruit Riders, be a media spokesperson, and gather the support of the government and other movement leaders. Nash dropped out of college in 1961 to be a full-time strategist and instructor for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference headed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Later Nash would be recognized in several documentaries including award-winning documentary film series Eyes on the Prize and several awards including the Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum in 2008.
"There is a source of power in each of us that we don't realize until we take responsibility." -Diane Nash
Astronaut, Physician, Scientist
On October 7th, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama, Mae C. Jemison was born. Throughout her childhood Jemison's parents were very encouraging and supportive of her interests in science and astronomy. Jemison went on to graduate in 1973 as a consistent honor student, and entered Stanford University at 16 years old on a National Achievement Scholarship. She graduated from Stanford in 1977, receiving a B.S. in chemical engineering and fulfilling the requirements for a B.A. in African and Afro-American Studies. In 1981 Jemison obtained her Doctor of Medicine degree at Cornell Medical College and afterwards interned at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. Jemison spent time in the Peace Corps in Africa where she was a medical officer, taught and did medical research. Upon her return to the U.S. in 1985 she decided to pursue a deferred dream and applied to NASA's astronaut training program. The next year she was selected out of about 2,000 applicants, along with 15 others to participate. After about a year, Jemison was not only the first African American woman to be admitted to the training program, but she became the first African American female astronaut. On September 12, 1992, with six other astronauts aboard the Endeavour on mission STS47, she flew into space, becoming the first African-American woman in space. During the trip Jemison conducted experiments on motion sickness on the crew and herself before returning to Earth on September 20, 1992. Jemison has received several awards acknowledging her accomplishments including the 1988 Essence Science and Technology Award and the Ebony Black Achievement Award in 1992. She was also apart of many organizations including American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. After resigning from NASA in 1993, Jemison began teaching and also founded several organizations surrounding science and technology.
Civil Rights Activist, Women's Rights Activist
Sojourner Truth was born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree in 1797, in Swartekill, Ulster County, New York. Truth saved herself and daughter from slavery in 1826, and later returned for her son, contesting his owner in court. The case was one of the first in which a black woman successfully challenged a white man in a United States court. On June 1, 1843, Isabella Baumfree changed her name to Sojourner Truth, devoting her life to Methodism and the abolition of slavery. In 1850 Truth's memoirs were published under the title The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave. She proceeded to advocate for abolition and women's rights as she toured with abolitionist George Thompson, speaking to large crowds on the subjects of human rights and slavery. In May of 1851, Truth delivered her famous "Ain't I a Woman" speech at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron. Even after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Truth continued to speak openly on the subjects of women's rights, universal suffrage and prison reform. Sojourner Truth died at her home in Michigan, on November 26, 1883.
American Poet, Author, Civil Rights Activist
Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Annie Johnson, was born on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. Growing up Angelou had suffered a difficult childhood, from racial discrimination and also being the victim of sexual assault by her mothers boyfriend. Angelou's uncles, out of vengeance killed the man that assaulted her. She was so traumatized by the events that she had become virtually mute for about 5 years, which began to develop her love for literature. During WWII, Angelou attended the California Labor School, where she worked as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco. In 1944, at 16 years old, Angelou gave birth to her son Guy Johnson. Despite interracial relationships being frowned upon, Angelou married Anastasios Angelopulos, a Greek sailor, in 1951 and separated in 1954. As a dancer it was suggested that Angelou change her name from Marguerite Johnson, to Maya Angelou, a combination of her childhood nickname and former married surname. In the mid 1950's Angelou landed a role in Porgy and Bess and released her first album titled Miss Calypso. After spending time traveling across the world Angelou released I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. In the 1970's she produced a screenplay, earned a Tony Award nomination and an Emmy Award nomination among other honors. Angelou has written several autobiographies, collections of poetry, screenplays and even a cook book! Earning several awards during her lifetime, including a Grammy Award for best spoken word album. Due to health issues Maya Angelou died on May 28, 2014, at her home in North Carolina.
"How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” -Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
Civil Rights Activist, Academic Scholar, Author
Angela Yvonne Davis was born on January 26th, 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama. Davis' mother, Sallye Bell Davis, was a national officer and leading organizer of the Southern Negro Youth Congress. Racial prejudice was evident to Davis early on as she organized interracial study groups, which were broken up by the police. She also was surrounded by communist organizers and thinkers who influenced her growing up. Davis later moved to Massachusetts and went to Brandeis University where she studied philosophy with Herbert Marcuse. After spending time studying in France, Davis earned her master's degree from University of California-San Diego. She also earned her doctorate in philosophy from the Humboldt University in East Berlin. Working with the Che-Lumumba Club, which was all-black branch of the Communist Party and being associated with the Black Panther Party, Davis began to be a staple in the civil rights movement. After a courtroom incident Davis was said to be involved in, she spent roughly 18 months in jail, Davis was acquitted in June 1972. Davis is also the author of several books, including Women, Race, and Class (1980) and Are Prisons Obsolete?
"We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society." -Angela Davis
Born on January 26th, 1829 in Atlanta, Texas, Bessie Coleman was phenomenal barrier breaker. At a time where both racism and sexism were prominent, Coleman made it her mission to get her pilot's license against the odds. As an outstanding student she was accepted into the Missionary Baptist Church School on scholarship at 12 years old. When Coleman turned 18, she used her savings to attend one term at Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now called Langston University) in Langston, Oklahoma. After hearing stories about pilots flying during World War I, Coleman decided she wanted to fly. Since flying schools in the United States wouldn't accept African Americans or women, it was recommended that she study abroad. Coleman took a French-language class at the Berlitz school in Chicago and then traveled to Paris on November 20, 1920. Earning her license from France's well known Caudron Brother's School of Aviation after only seven months, Coleman returned to the U.S in 1921 as a licensed pilot. Specializing in stunt flying and parachuting and earning a living barnstorming and performing aerial tricks, she was the first African American woman to take flight in the U.S in 1922. After flying in a malfunctioning aircraft, Coleman was propelled to her death in Jacksonville, Florida on April 30, 1926 at only 34 years old.
"If I can create the minimum of my plans and desires, there shall be no regrets." -Bessie Coleman (1829-1926)
Civil Rights Activist
Claudette Colvin was born on September 5th, 1939 in one of Montgomery, Alabama's poorer neighborhoods. As a young girl she relied on the city's buses to get to and from the segregated Booker T. Washington High School in the city. On March 2, 1955, Colvin was riding the bus home after school when a bus driver told her to give up her seat to a white passenger, to which she refused. The bus driver then proceeded to call the police to have Colvin removed from the bus. When the two officers arrived Colvin was handcuffed, arrested and forcibly taken off the bus. Colvin was charged with disturbing the peace, violating the segregation law, and assault. Despite declaring herself not guilty, the court still ruled against her and ordered that she be put on probation. In 1956, Colvin was one of the four plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle case, which later ruled that Montgomery's segregated bus system was unconstitutional. Although not as recognized as Rosa Parks, Colvin played a huge role in the civil rights movement and the Montgomery bus boycott movement.
“I knew then and I know now that, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can't sugarcoat it. You have to take a stand and say, "This is not right." -Claudette Colvin
American Politician, Educator, Author
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1924, Shirley Chisholm is best known for being the first black congresswoman. Upon graduating with her Bachelor of Arts from Brooklyn College in 1946, she went on to further her education earning a MA in elementary education from Teachers College at Columbia University in 1952. Chisholm directed the Friends Day Nursery in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center in lower Manhattan through the 1950's. While serving as an educational consultant for New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare, Chisholm became known as an authority on issues involving early education and child welfare. In 1968 she made history as the United States' first African-American congresswoman, beginning the first of seven terms in the House of Representatives. In 1969, Chisholm became one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus and then went on to make history again by becoming the first black woman of a major party to run for presidential nomination in 1972. After several terms in the House, Chisholm retired to teach at Mount Holyoke College and be a popular lecturer. Shirley Chisholm was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, nearly 11 years after her death in 2005.
"Defeat should not be the source of discouragement, but a stimulus to keep plotting." -Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005)
Abolitionist, Civil Rights Activist, Humanitarian
Harriet Tubman, born Araminta Harriet Ross, was born into slavery in Maryland in 1820. Tubmans mother, Harriet Green, set a bold example for her when she was an adolescent by resisting the continued separation of her family by slave trade. Tubmans childhood consisted of excessive physical violence, some of which scarred her for life with seizures and painful headaches. Although her father became free from slavery at the age of 45, the rest of the Tubman family was not. It wasn’t until 1849 did Tubman free herself from slavery with her two brothers; who out of fear returned back to the plantation, leaving Tubman on the journey to freedom alone. Upon reaching Pennsylvania Tubman decided not to remain in the safety of the north but to help her niece and her entire family make the escape to Philadelphia. Continuing to liberate slaves, Tubman remained active throughout the civil war as a nurse, scout, and spy. Named one of the most famous civilians in American History before the Civil War, Tubman freed over 700 slaves from the south and later died of pneumonia in 1913. In April 2016, it was announced that Harriet Tubman will be the new face of the twenty-dollar bill, replacing Andrew Jackson.
"I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves." -Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)
Fannie Lou Hamer
Civil Rights Leader, Voting Rights Activist, Philanthropist
Born Fannie Lou Townsend on October 6, 1917, Fannie Lou Hamer was a staple in the civil rights movement by practicing civil disobedience. Hamer helped establish the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, National Women's Political Caucus and several other organizations. On August 31, 1962 Hamer traveled with 17 other blacks to register to vote, which was faced with resistance from local and state law enforcement. Throughout her activist career, Hamer faced violent opposition and was severely beaten, arrested and shot at. However, this did not stop her strides to encourage the african american vote and bring attention to the civil rights struggle in Mississippi. Upon helping establish the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971, which is dedicated to increasing women’s participation in the political process and equality for all women, Hamer was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1976. Continuing to fight for justice through that tough time, she passed on March 17th 1977.
"I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." -Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977)