Black HERstory Month

Alice Dunnigan

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Alice Dunnigan was the first black woman to cover the White House.

Althea Gibson

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Althea Gibson pioneered the movement of African-American women to professional sports teams. 

Angela Davis

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Angela Davis is an American political activist and scholar.

Aretha Franklin

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Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” began singing when she was 14 years old, recording her first album The Gospel Sound of Aretha Franklin.

Audre Lorde

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Audre Lorde was a Caribbean-American writer and activist who described herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior and poet.”

Betty (Mabry) Davis

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Betty (Mabry) Davis released three funk albums in the 1970s that are said to have the potential to pave the way for many current black female artists.

Beyoncé Knowles

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Beyoncé Knowles, as we all know, began her career as the lead vocalist of Destiny’s Child.

Claudette Colvin

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Claudette Colvin’s narrative closely resembles the defiant actions of Rosa Parks. However, Colvin was only school age when she refused to give up her bus seat for a young white woman.

Dorothy Height

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Dorothy Height, known as the godmother of the women's movement, led the National Council of Negro Women for four decades and was a leading figure in the 1963 March on Washington.

Ella Baker

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Ella Baker was an American activist born in the southern United States.

Harriet Tubman

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Harriet Tubman is a heroine of the American Antebellum era. She was an abolitionist, an icon in the extended fight for Civil Rights.

Hattie McDaniel

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Hattie McDaniel is best known as the first black Oscar winner. She won Best Supporting Actress on February 29, 1940, for her role as “Mammy.”

Henriette Delille

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Henriette Delille was 24 years old when she underwent her religious epiphany.

Janet Jackson

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Janet Jackson was a Jackson sibling that didn’t perform with the Jackson 5, but but a name for herself and distinguished her music from her brothers’ after proving herself in the industry.

Katherine Dunham

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Katherine Dunham was a dancer, choreographer and anthropologist.

Mae Jemison

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Mae Jemison was the first African American woman astronaut aboard the Endeavour shuttle.

Maya Angelou

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Maya Angelou collected a wide variety of titles during her lifetime. She was Maya Angelou the author, Maya Angelou the poet, Maya Angelou the historian, songwriter, playwright, dancer, director, performer, singer, activist, and more.

Michelle Obama

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Michelle Obama describes herself as a mother first and foremost, but she is also a writer, was a lawyer, and was the first African-American First Lady of the United States.

Oprah Winfrey

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Oprah Winfrey grew up in Mississippi on her grandmother’s farm, where she was considered a gifted child by the members of the church community.

Phillis Wheatley

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Phillis Wheatley, the first published African-American female poet, arrived to the United States in 1761.

Rosa Parks

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Rosa Parks, also known as "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement,” is likely one of the best-known historic figures across the nation. 

Serena Williams

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Serena Williams, an eight-time world No. 1-ranked professional tennis player, first began to explore her passion for tennis at age four.

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm

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Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was the first African American woman in Congress and the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for United States President from one of the two major political parties.

Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes produced the medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, making her the first African American woman to create and executive produce a Top 10 network series.

Sojourner Truth

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Sojourner Truth, a former slave, became an outspoken advocate for abolition, temperance, and both civil and women’s rights in the nineteenth century. 

Valerie Johnson

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Dr. Valerie Johnson is a Professor of Women’s Studies and the Director of Africana Women’s Studies at Bennett College in North Carolina. 

Wanda Sykes

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Wanda Sykes was the first African-American woman and openly gay comedian to perform at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.

Biographies

Alice Dunnigan

Alice Dunnigan was the first black woman to cover the White House. In order to become a journalist, she fought back against poverty, segregation, and sexism.


She became the head of the Associated Negro Press (ANP) Washington Bureau and filed stories in 112 African-American newspapers. 


Her story is an inspiration to anyone trying to make it through tough times. She gives hope to those who doubt their ability or their worth, according to her late husband Simeon Booker. 


She first worked as a typist but convinced the editor of the ANP to give her a job. She got credentials to report on the White House, Congress, the State Department, and the Supreme Court. 


Dunnigan was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame in 2013. 


In her autobiography, A Black Woman’s Experience-From Schoolhouse to White House, she wrote about how civil rights were impacted by the black press. The stories of the government attempting to limit the rights of African Americans were written by the black press.


She aimed to encourage young writers to aim high and not let barriers keep them back. 


From Sept, 21 through Dec. 16 of 2018, a statue of Dunnigan was on view at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The six-foot bronze statue is currently in the University of Kentucky’s library, but will be relocated in August to Dunnigan’s hometown of Russellville, Ky at the West Kentucky African-American Heritage Center.

Althea Gibson

Althea Gibson pioneered the movement of African-American women to professional sports teams. 


With tennis as her specialty, Gibson proceeded to win a string of American Tennis Association titles after only first picking up a racket a year prior. 


Following her entry to the major tournaments, she became the first black player to win Wimbledon and the French and U.S. Open titles. By 1953, Gibson was deemed the No. 7 player in the U.S, and, in 1971, she was inducted as a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.


Outside of tennis, Gibson became the first African-American competitor on the women’s pro golf tour in the 1960s. While she broke multiple records during individual rounds in several different tournaments, her best tournament finish was only a tie for second place at the 1970 Buick Open.


With her fame, Gibson was thrust into the glare of the early Civil Rights movement, bringing her story into a much broader realm of American history.


Gibson was the first African American woman named Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press. She was also among Sports Illustrated’s Top 100 Greatest Female Athletes. And eventually, Althea Gibson served as Commissioner of Athletics for the state of New Jersey.


“Most of us who aspire to be tops in our fields don't really consider the amount of work required to stay tops.” -Althea Gibson

Angela Davis

Angela Davis is an American political activist and scholar. She was born in the “Dynamite Hill” area of Birmingham, Alabama, named for its repeated Ku Klux Klan bombings of African American homes.


Before even graduating college, Davis joined the Civil Rights movement. She was inspired to do so after the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in her hometown. By 1967, Davis was so influenced by Black Power advocates that she joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and then the Black Panther Party.


During the early 1970s, Davis also became active in the movement to improve prison conditions for inmates.  That work led to her campaign to release the “Soledad Brothers," two Black Panther Party members who were incarcerated in the late ‘60s.


Motivated to become more directly influential in the political world, Davis ran on the Communist Party ticket for vice president of the United States in 1980 and 1984.


Despite an unsuccessful campaign, Davis proceeded to be an activist as she continued her academic pursuits. She became a lecturer on the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz as well as a Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Women's and Gender Studies Department at Syracuse University.


To understand how any society functions you must understand the relationship between the men and the women.” -Angela Davis

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” began singing when she was 14 years old, recording her first album The Gospel Sound of Aretha Franklin. 


In 1966, she created her sound, drawing from blues and gospel influences. She was soon regarded as a symbol of black pride and soul music. Her songs “Respect,” “Young, Gifted, and Black,” and “Think” represent the African American strength and power against the harsh racism during the 1960’s

In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. awarded Franklin an award for excellence. 


Five days after King’s assassination, Franklin serenaded the attendees of his funeral with “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”


She strived to keep King’s movement alive, working to support the Black panthers and attempting to post bail to free activist Angela Davis from jail.


She put women front and center in the Civil Rights’ Movement. As the Queen of Soul, she incorporated race, sexuality, and love into her music, creating a sound that can never be replicated


In 2009, she sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at President Obama’s inauguration and moved him to tears six years later during her 2015 Kennedy Center Honors performance. 


Franklin was also the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 


She passed away on August 16, 2018, but her music will always be a large influence in the African American community.


I didn’t think my songs would become anthems for women. But I’m delighted. Women probably immediately feel compassion and relate to the lyrics.” -Aretha Franklin

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was a Caribbean-American writer and activist who described herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior and poet.” She empowered her readers with her moving poetry often tackling the injustices of racism, sexism and homophobia. 


In 1968, Lorde published her first volume of poetry, “First Cities.” Also in 1968, Lorde taught a poetry workshop at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, witnessing first-hand the deeply racist biases in the South. There she found the inspiration to write her second volume of poetry entitled “Cables to Rage” which took on themes of love, deceit, and family.


Lorde's third volume of poetry, “From a Land Where Other People Live” earned a lot of praise and was nominated for a National Book Award. In this volume she explored issues of identity as well as concerns about global issues. Finally she published, “New York Head Shop and Museum,” which tackled social and political issues as well.


In 1976, Lorde’s work began to explore her African heritage. With the publication of “Coal” and “The Black Unicorn” by a major book company, Lorde began to reach a larger audience. “The Black Unicorn” is considered one of her greatest works by many critics. 


In addition to poetry, Audre Lorde was a powerful essayist. She is best known for her nonfiction piece titled “The Cancer Journals,” published in 1980. Here, she documented her own struggle with breast cancer. The cancer later spread to her liver and she chronicled the events in her collection, “A Burst of Light.” Audre Lorde battled cancer for more than a decade. Around this time, she took an African name, Gamba Adisa, meaning "she who makes her meaning clear."


“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” -Audre Lorde

Betty (Mabry) Davis

Betty (Mabry) Davis released three funk albums in the 1970s that are said to have the potential to pave the way for many current black female artists.  


She stopped recording and disappeared in the 80s, causing many people to believe she died. 


Her career was not a conventional success, as radio stations banned her songs (they were very promiscuous) and her record sales disappointed. 


Though she didn’t leave much of a mark in the music industry, she would have if she was more successful. Artists today may feel more freer in the industry if artists like Davis had been more successful in breaking down walls. It continues to be a struggle for black female artists to become prominent artists and they continue to be pioneers in the world. 


“Three albums of hard funk. I put everything there. But doors in the industry kept closing. Always white men behind desks telling me to change—change my look, change my sound . . . . I needed to ‘fit in,’ or else no contract . . . . I learned that stars starve in silence.” -Betty Davis

Beyoncé Knowles

Beyoncé Knowles, as we all know, began her career as the lead vocalist of Destiny’s Child. She captured the public’s attention and, eventually, had garnered enough success and publicity to establish a solo career with her debut album Dangerously in Love. At this point, she became one of music's top-selling artists with sold-out tours and a slew of major awards.


However, she deserves much more credit for her distinguished role in pop culture than she typically gets. Beyoncé Knowles is also an extremely prominent 21st Century activist.


Beyoncé co-founded an organization known as Chime for Change, describing it as "a global campaign to raise funds and awareness for girls and women around the world." Beyoncé donated $500,000 for the organization to provide health and education programs for women in developing countries, alongside counseling services for girls in New York and support for victims of sex trafficking in Los Angeles.


Beyoncé also funded Embrace Innovations, cofounded by Jane Chen, to provides low-cost infant warmers as an easier way to help premature babies survive in developing countries. Beyoncé's support of Embrace Innovations will support an extension of its pilot program to additional countries in need. 


But that’s not all she’s done. Not even close. Beyoncé has also launched a philanthropic initiative called #BeyGOOD through which, she has created the Formation Scholars awards to support young women pursuing studies in creative arts or black studies at select schools. She has additionally established the Homecoming Scholar Awards Program to support students attending several HBCUs. 


And still, this is by no means an exhaustive list of all of Beyoncé Knowles’ philanthropic efforts, because as she says, she’s a “workaholic” who refuses to take “no” for an answer, so the way she sees it, there’s always more work to be done.


“I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, I only have to follow my heart and concentrate on what I want to say to the world. I run my world.” – Beyoncé Knowles

Claudette Colvin

Claudette Colvin’s narrative closely resembles the defiant actions of Rosa Parks. However, Colvin was only school age when she refused to give up her bus seat for a young white woman.


The problem arose because all the seats on the bus were taken. Colvin and her friends were sitting in a row a little more than half way down the bus. The driver wanted all of them to move to the back and stand so that a white passenger could sit. But Colvin asserted that is was her right as a paying passenger to remain seated.


"He wanted me to give up my seat for a white person and I would have done it for an elderly person but this was a young white woman. Three of the students had got up reluctantly and I remained sitting next to the window." -Claudette Colvin


"Whenever people ask me: 'Why didn't you get up when the bus driver asked you?' I say it felt as though Harriet Tubman's hands were pushing me down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth's hands were pushing me down on the other shoulder. I felt inspired by these women because my teacher taught us about them in so much detail." -Claudette Colvin


The driver kept going until two policemen boarded the bus and asked Colvin why she wouldn't give up her seat. They proceeded to roughly push Colvin’s books from her lap and pull her up by her arm, dragging her from the bus. Colvin was taken to an adult jail rather than a juvenile detention center.


According to blackpast.org, the Montgomery bus boycott took off in December of 1955, and the NAACP and MIA took it as their responsibility to successfully file a lawsuit on behalf of Colvin, and four other women who had been involved in earlier acts of civil disobedience on the Montgomery buses.

Dorothy Height

Dorothy Height, known as the godmother of the women's movement, led the National Council of Negro Women for four decades and was a leading figure in the 1963 March on Washington. And, in 1957, she began her work with the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA).


Through the NCNW, Height focused on ending the lynching of African Americans and restructuring the criminal justice system. In 1957, she became the fourth president of the NCNW. Under her leadership, the NCNW supported voter registration in the South.


Height was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994.


“My mother helped me understand how not to show off what I knew, but how to use it so that others might benefit.” 

― Dorothy Height, Open Wide The Freedom Gates: A Memoir

Ella Baker

Ella Baker was an American activist born in the southern United States.

In 1930, she joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League and several other women's organizations.


By 1940, Baker had began her involvement with the NAACP, and in 1955, she co-founded the organization In Friendship to oppose the Jim Crow Laws.


Soon after, Baker moved to Atlanta to help organize Martin Luther King's new organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and run a voter registration campaign, Crusade for Citizenship.


At what may be considered the peak of her activist career, Baker created the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The Digital SNCC Gateway defines this moment as “the first time young people decisively entered the ranks of civil rights movement leadership. They committed themselves to full-time organizing from the bottom-up, and with this approach empowered older efforts at change and facilitated the emergence of powerful new grassroots voices.”


According to the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, “With Ella Baker's guidance and encouragement, SNCC became one of the foremost advocates for human rights in the country.”


"This may only be a dream of mine, but I think it can be made real." -Ella Baker

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman is a heroine of the American Antebellum era. She was an abolitionist, an icon in the extended fight for Civil Rights.


Tubman herself was born into slavery between 1815 and 1825, but upon her escape to the North, she began seeking ways to free other black slaves. She built a support network consisting of trusted friends, both black and white, who would host and arrange transportation for the fugitive slaves. Hence, Tubman became the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad.


In that decade, she made 19 trips to and from the North, liberating approximately 300 slaves from the American South. Among these roughly 300 fugitives, were her parents, relatives, and several friends for whom she risked her life to guide to freedom. 


The passage of the Fugitive Slave Law as part of the Compromise of 1850 made her job even more dangerous.

Under this law, the federal government had to play an active role in the recapturing of fugitive slaves, directly assisting the slave owners. No such requirement had existed previously. Specifically, the law required United States marshals had to “hunt” fugitives and personally return them to their owners. It also declared that anyone caught hiding or assisting fugitive slaves would have to face stiff penalties.


According to the Harriet Tubman Historical Society, Harriet Tubman had established personal contact with abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison--who nicknamed her “Moses”--and Frederick Douglass. Douglass was a strong supporter of her activities, and expressed this by opening his own home to passengers of the Underground Railroad. Notably, Tubman had once told Douglass that she “had never lost a single passenger.”


In her later life, Tubman donated her property to the African American Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Auburn to be converted into a home for the aged and indigent colored people. By this point, Tubman was spending her final years in Harriet Tubman Home for Aged & Indigent Negroes.


“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

-Harriet Tubman

Hattie McDaniel

Hattie McDaniel is best known as the first black Oscar winner. She won Best Supporting Actress on February 29, 1940, for her role as “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind, but her career had began three whole decades earlier.


She gave her first public performances in Denver, Colorado while she was still only a student in grade school. At the time, her father, Henry McDaniel, was traveling through Colorado with his own minstrel show, but would not allow his daughter to accompany them. She was only allowed to perform locally when the shows were performed at East Turner Hall in Denver.


In 1910, when she won the Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s recitation contest with her rendition of “Convict Joe,” she earned a standing ovation from the captivated audience. Although only a sophomore, McDaniel insisted upon being a full-time performer and convinced her parents that she should quit school to join her father’s show.


After her father retired, Hattie McDaniel began her search for other venues, eventually finding a spot alongside Denver’s well-known Professor George Morrison, a classically-trained violinist who developed an orchestra that played jazz throughout the western United States. McDaniel also found work in a variety of other venues as star billing eluded the majority of African American performers and everyone took work wherever they could find it. In 1931, convinced that her talent could take her even further, McDaniel moved to Hollywood to join a musical group of a brother and his two sisters.


Hattie McDaniel died on October 2, 1952, becoming the first African-American buried in the Los Angeles Rosedale Cemetery.


“What gentlemen says and what they thinks is two different things…”

-Hattie McDaniel as Mammy; Gone with the Wind (1939) 

Henriette Delille

Henriette Delille was 24 years old when she underwent her religious epiphany.


So in 1836. she drew up the rules and regulations for devout Christian women, which would eventually become the Society of the Holy Family. The group was founded for the purpose of “nursing the sick, caring for the poor, and instructing the ignorant.”


A few years later, Delille was assisted by Juliette Gaudin and Josephine Charles in the founding of the Sisters of the Holy Family. Records show that these women served as godmothers to people of all ages and statuses. The women began to take in elderly women who needed more than visitation, and thereby opened America's first Catholic home for the elderly. The Sisters also took it upon themselves to care for the sick and the dying during the yellow fever epidemics of New Orleans in 1853 and 1897.


According to leaders of the Catholic Church Henriette Deville “devoted herself untiringly for many years, without reserve, to the religious instruction of the people of New Orleans, principally of slaves,” and the last line of her obituary reads, ". . . for the love of Jesus Christ she had become the humble and devout servant of the slaves.”


After her death, The Sisters of the Holy Family asked, from the Catholic Church, permission to begin a canonization process. According to their official website, this request was granted through the efforts of the late Archbishop Philip Hannan and by Blessed John Paul II in 1988. The Church then declared her “Servant of God." Therefore, Henriette Delille was the first African-American whose cause for canonization has been officially opened by the Catholic Church. 

Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson was a Jackson sibling that didn’t perform with the Jackson 5, but but a name for herself and distinguished her music from her brothers’ after proving herself in the industry.


In 1993, Janet Jackson released her album janet. which addressed female sexuality in a way that had never been done before. She was no longer Michael Jackson’s innocent younger sister, but Janet Jackson, pop icon. 


Janet. separated her from her siblings and showed the world that she was an independent artist that could thrive on her own. 


The album was not just about sexuality, it was about Jackson being comfortable with her body and her image. She opened up public conversation to female sex and sexuality. It showed her power. Janet. debuted at Number One, making Jackson the first female artist of the SoundScan era to do so. 


She created a new representation of black female identity in the music industry and inspired many women that came after her, such as Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, and Beyoncé. 


She won the Billboard Icon Award in 2018, released No. 1 Albums for four consecutives decades, and sold 32 million albums in the U.S. Jackson may have been related to the King of Pop, but she surely made a name for herself and proved that she could be everything her brother could. 


“Because of my gender, I’ve heard no too many times/Because of my race, I’ve heard no too many times/But with every no I grow in strength/That’s why as an African-American woman, I stand tall with pride.”  - Janet Jackson

Katherine Dunham

Katherine Dunham was a dancer, choreographer and anthropologist. Her dream was to become a teacher, so she attended the University of Chicago, and  was the first African American women to do so. She earned her bachelor, masters and doctoral degrees in anthropology.


After graduation, she formed the Negro Dance Group which performed at various events in Chicago. Dunham revolutionized dance. After studying dance in the Caribbean, she incorporated the roots of black dance and rituals into her choreography, which was unheard of in the 1930s. She was also a founder of the anthropological dance movement.


Part of her legacy is the Dunham Technique, which is characterized by classical lines, torso movement, and a wide range of tempo and rhythm. 

She is often called the “Matriarch of Black Dance” because of her combination of Caribbean dances, traditional ballet, and African rituals and rhythms. 


After touring with her company and appearing in many films, Dunham became the first African American to choreograph for the Metropolitan Opera. 


She was always an advocate for racial equality and refused to perform at segregated venues and often highlighted discrimination. 


“I used to want the words ‘She tried’ on my tombstone. Now I want ‘She did it.’” -Katherine Dunham

Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison was the first African American woman astronaut aboard the Endeavour shuttle. She retired from NASA in 1993 and founded the Jemison Group, Inc. that focuses on several issues, such as improving healthcare in Africa and advancing technology in developing countries. 


Before that, she was the Area Peace Corps Medical Officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia, where she managed the health care delivery system for the Peace Corps and U.S. Embassy. She also developed curriculum and taught health training. 


She was working in Los Angeles as general practitioner and attended graduate engineering classes until NASA selected her to be a part of the astronaut program. 


In space, Jemison was a science mission specialist which meant that she conducted crew-related science experiments in space (such as experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness). 


After her trip to space, she commented on how society should recognize the major contributions of women and members of minorities when they’re given the opportunities. 


“Never limit yourself because of others' limited imagination; never limit others because of your own limited imagination.” 

- Mae Jemison

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou collected a wide variety of titles during her lifetime. She was Maya Angelou the author, Maya Angelou the poet, Maya Angelou the historian, songwriter, playwright, dancer, director, performer, singer, activist, and more. But she is best known for her seven autobiographical books: Mom & Me & Mom, Letter to My Daughter, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, The Heart of a Woman, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, Gather Together in My Name, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings which was nominated for the National Book Award.


In 1959, at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she became Maya Angelou the northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Then, from 1961 to 1962 she was associate editor of The Arab Observer in Cairo, Egypt, and from 1964 to 1966, she was a feature editor of the African Review in Accra, Ghana.


When Angelou returned to the United States, she was appointed by Gerald Ford to the Bicentennial Commission and by Jimmy Carter to the Commission for International Woman of the Year. She also accepted a lifetime appointment as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1982. By 2010, she had received the National Medal of Arts and had been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.


As if the frequent recognition from multiple Unites States Presidents wasn’t enough. Angelou also became the first black woman director in Hollywood where she pursued jobs writing, producing, and starring in stage, film, and television productions. She wrote and produced several iconic, prize-winning documentaries and was nominated for a Tony award for acting: once for her Broadway debut in Look Away and again for her performance in Roots.


Angelou died on May 28, 2014, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.


“The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power.”

-Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama describes herself as a mother first and foremost, but she is also a writer, was a lawyer, and was the first African-American First Lady of the United States. She grew up in Chicago in a small apartment above her grandparents’ home.


After high school, Obama followed in her brother’s footsteps and attended Princeton University. She then attended Harvard Law School. 


Feeling unfulfilled by the law profession, she worked as the assistant commissioner of planning and development in Chicago’s City Hall, and then went on to become a founding executive director of the Chicago Chapter of Public Allies


As First Lady, she founded the Let’s Move! initiative in 2010 to help end childhood obesity in America. The initiative included providing healthier food in schools, encouraging active living, and marketing healthier foods towards children. 


Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden launched Joining Forces in 2011, which encouraged Americans to support veterans, service members, and their families. 


Three years later, Obama started the Reach Higher Initiative. This program encouraged students to strive for education past high school. 


As the last initiative in office, Michelle Obama and her husband, Barack, teamed up to launch Let Girls Learn. They visited countries around the world to promote education and empowerment amongst young women and inspired women in the United States to dedicate themselves to education as well.


Obama directly and indirectly inspired children and women all across the globe during her time in office, and continues to do so today. 


“Whether you come from a council estate or a country estate, your success will be determined by your own confidence and fortitude.” -Michelle Obama

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey grew up in Mississippi on her grandmother’s farm, where she was considered a gifted child by the members of the church community. She moved in with her mother at age 6, but her mother was rarely present. During this time with her mother, Winfrey was repeatedly molested and abused.


She eventually moved in with her father at age 14. He helped her regain confidence and kept her on a strict schedule.


Winfrey attended Tennessee State University and worked a WVOl, a local radio station. Not long after she began school, she was picked up by a local television station. After co-hosting and co-anchoring multiple news shows, The Oprah Winfrey Show was born.


In its first year as a national television show, The Oprah Winfrey Show won three Daytime Emmy Awards. In its second year, it won another Emmy and Oprah herself was awarded the international Radio and Television Society’s “Broadcaster of the Year” Award. She was the youngest person to receive this award.


She also portrayed many important African American female characters in films such as The Color Purple and Native Son. 


In the 1990s, Winfrey initiated a campaign to form a database of convicted child abusers and testified in front of a Judiciary Committee. President Clinton signed the “Oprah Bill” into law in 1993. 


She created Oprah’s Angel Network, which is public charity that encourages people to make a difference in other people’s lives. It initiates and supports non-profit organizations and charity projects. 


This began as a campaign to encourage people to donate to The Boys & Girls Clubs of America and to build homes with Habitat for Humanity. 


She has donated over $20 million to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture


In 2003, Forbes published that Winfrey was the first African American woman to become a billionaire. She is the richest self-made woman in America and the richest African American in this century.


President Obama awarded her a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 for all of her philanthropic and benevolent actions.


“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.” -Oprah Winfrey

Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley, the first published African-American female poet, arrived to the United States in 1761. She was immediately sold to the Wheatley family in Boston, Massachusetts.


The Wheatley family educated her, teaching her to read the Bible, Greek and Latin classics, and British literature. They also tutored her in other subjects like astronomy and geography.


Wheatley published her first poem in 1767. But later found greater success with her publication of “An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of the Celebrated Divine George Whitefield” in 1770.


In 1773, Wheatley traveled to London to publish the first book written by a black woman in America, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. It included a forward, signed by notable Bostonians like John Hancock as well as a portrait of Wheatley designed to prove that the work was produced by a black woman. She was emancipated within the year.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks, also known as "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement,” is likely one of the best-known historic figures across the nation. 


By refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, Parks helped initiate the civil rights movement in 1955. 


A few months later, The New York Herald Tribune, detailed the ensuing events that ultimately led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott:


The bus boycott began Dec. 5. A series of incidents culminated in the arrest of one Rosa Parks, a Negro woman, for insisting on sitting in front of the segregation line imposed, as was the custom, arbitrarily by the driver.


Whether or not this case was a “plant,” as has been charged, all that seems to have been intended at the beginning was a Negro demonstration of protest to last several days. But on the first day of the protest the police turned out in force at the most important bus stops in the Negro sections. The idea, supposedly, was to “preserve order.” If there is anything a Negro fears in the South it is a policeman. And if any non-protesting Negroes had intended that day to board the buses despite the protest, the city police made certain by their presence on the street that these Negroes vanished fast. That show of police strength on the first day consolidated the Negro boycott.

— New York Herald Tribune, Paris Edition, March 3, 1956


Over the next half-century, Parks became a nationally recognized symbol of dignity and strength in the struggle to end America’s disgusting trend of racial segregation.


“I was a person with dignity and self-respect, and I should not set my sights lower than anybody else just because I was black.”

-Rosa Parks

Serena Williams

Serena Williams, an eight-time world No. 1-ranked professional tennis player, first began to explore her passion for tennis at age four. Later, her younger sister, Venus Williams, also began to pursue a career in professional tennis. The two were frequent doubles partners and both were eventually ranked as No. 1 professional tennis player.


Surpassing her sister, Serena Williams now holds 23 Grand Slam singles titles, 12 titles in women’s doubles, and two titles in mixed doubles. Williams established herself as a top-ranked player when she won the U.S. Open, the Grand Slam Cup, and three other Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) singles titles.


Unbeknown to many, Serena Williams’ achievements do reach beyond the tennis court. For example, in 2004, she launched a custom-designed Nike apparel line, as well as her own line called Aneres.


Williams is also heavily devoted to philanthropic work, being involved with numerous charitable organizations. Specifically, in 2008, she funded the construction of the Serena Williams Secondary School in Matooni, Kenya. Her foundation also provides scholarships in the United States.


In 2016, Williams joined with her sister to found the Yetunde Price Resource Center. It honors the memory of their sister, who was tragically killed in a 2003 shooting. The Center aims to aid those affected by community violence.


“With a defeat, when you lose, you get up, you make it better, you try again. That’s what I do in life, when I get down, when I get sick, I don’t want to just stop. I keep going and I try to do more. Everyone always says never give up but you really have to take that to heart and really do never definitely give up. Keep trying.”

-Serena Williams

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was the first African American woman in Congress and the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for United States President from one of the two major political parties. 


In 1968, “Fighting Shirley” won her seat in the United States Congress where she introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation. She was also a co-founder of the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971, and in 1977, became the first black woman and second woman ever to serve on the powerful House Rules Committee. 


However, Chisholm’s career was plagued by discrimination against her for being both black and a woman. But still, students, women, and minorities followed the “Chisholm Trail.” She entered 12 primaries and garnered 152 of the delegates’ votes despite the odds supplemented by an under-financed campaign.


Her motto and title of her autobiography—Unbossed and Unbought—illustrated her outspoken advocacy for women and minorities during her seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.


“I want to be remembered as a woman… who dared to be a catalyst of change.” -Shirley Chisholm

Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes produced the medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, making her the first African American woman to create and executive produce a Top 10 network series. She also created Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, both widely successful television shows.


She has won several GLAAD Media and NAACP Image Awards for her efforts in tackling issues on race and sexuality. 

Rhimes played a prevalent role in the Time’s Up movement, created in response to Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault allegations. 


"It’s very hard for us to speak righteously about the rest of anything if we haven’t cleaned our own house," said Rhimes. "If this group of women can’t fight for a model for other women who don’t have as much power and privilege, then who can?" -Shonda Rhimes

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth, a former slave, became an outspoken advocate for abolition, temperance, and both civil and women’s rights in the nineteenth century. 


By the early 1830s, Truth was participating in the religious revivals that were sweeping the state a nd had become a well-known, charismatic speaker. In 1843, she publicly declared that the Spirit had called on her to preach the truth.


In 1851, Truth began a lecture tour that included a women’s rights conference in Akron, Ohio, where she delivered her powerful, iconic “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. Take a look at it for yourself:


Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?


“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?


“Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of the audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?


“Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.


“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.


“Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.”

Valerie Johnson

Dr. Valerie Johnson is a Professor of Women’s Studies and the Director of Africana Women’s Studies at Bennett College in North Carolina. 


Dr. Johnson is a professor at Bennett College in North Carolina where she teaches about the contributions of African American descendants. She has a strong passion for education and has dedicated her life to ensuring that females receive a fair education. Dr. Johnson teaches with the philosophy that the learning experience should be mutual, with both the student and teacher learning from each other. 


Students are “responsible to hold the past, be in the present, and propel to the future.” -Dr. Valerie Johnson

Besides teaching, Dr. Johnson also sits on the chair of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission and is one of two Black members on the 17-member North Carolina Historical Commision.


The Historical Commission holds the responsibility for decisions made on behalf of historical monuments on North Carolina State Property. One such monument is the Silent Sam statue on the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill campus.


“If you have a big, gigantic statue to something that touts the supremacy of one group over another, that’s not a true reflection of the history. You have one single view of that history.”


“I decided to dedicate myself to doing what I know to be right rather than what was safe. I enjoy the ability to teach the way I need to teach, to interact with my students in a very rich and fulfilling manner. That’s what I would want for anyone engaged in an academic enterprise.”

Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes was the first African-American woman and openly gay comedian to perform at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.


She is known for her comedy, writing, and acting. She’s been on shows such as Black-ish and Curb Your Enthusiasm and voice acted in films including Ice Age: Continental Drift and Over the Hedge. 


Sykes keeps her personal life private, but is openly gay and advocates for LGBT rights. After California passed Proposition 8 in 2008 banning same-sex marriage, Sykes used her position to give a voice to the LGBT community. 


"I love doing stand-up, because it gives me the freedom to say what I really want to say. I think that's why it's my favorite thing to do"

-Wanda Sykes