Black women have been trailblazers since the beginning of time. However, many people lack knowledge of historically famous Black women because there is very little Black history taught in American school systems. Malcolm X never lied when he said, "It is the process of mis-education that inhibits the full potential of a nation."
According to the National Council for Social Studies, "Only one to two lessons or 8–9 percent of total class time is devoted to Black history in U.S. history classrooms." So no need to sweat about how you could have done better when you were given limited tools to do so. This is why self-educating yourself about Black history written by us should be a continuous journey you choose to explore. Here is a mixed list of some of the most groundbreaking Black women figures that lead the way for all of us.
Famous Black Healthcare Workers You Oughta Know
It's only right to start off honoring the heroes that help save our lives daily.
Rebecca Lee Crumpler
In 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first Black woman in America to receive an MD degree. She was the only Black graduate at the time when she earned her degree at New England Female Medical College in Boston, Massachusetts. After the Civil War, Rebecca moved to Richmond, VA, and worked with other Black doctors who were taking care of formerly enslaved people in the Freedmen's Bureau.
In 1883, Crumpler wrote a book called A Book of Medical Discourses: In Two Parts. Her book amplified the experiences of women's and children's health and is written for "mothers, nurses, and all who may desire to mitigate the affiliations of the human race."
Alexa Irene Canady
At times, we all lack self-confidence like Alexa Irene Canady did while attending college—but even in our weary seasons, we can gain momentum to overcome our fears. And she did just that, becoming the first Black neurosurgeon in America in 1981. In just a few years, Canady even rose to become the Chief of Neurosurgeon at Children's Hospital of Michigan. Alexa continued working for several decades as a pediatric neurosurgeon until June 2001, when she retired.
Mary MahoneyAccording to the National Women's History Museum, Mary Mahoney became the first licensed Black nurse in America in 1879. She wasn't able to work in a hospital due to discrimination towards Black people in the 19th century, so she became a private nurse instead. In 1908, Mahoney co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN). Several years later, after the 19th Amendment was approved, she became one of the first women registered to vote in Boston, MA.
Famous Black Political Women Leaders You Oughta Know
Angela Davis is a profound Civil Rights activist known for her involvement in the 1960s with the Communist party. She was also a part of the Black Panther Party for a few months until she got weary of the political group's sexism issues. Davis was later targeted by the FBI, making its 10 Most Wanted List, due to her launching a campaign to free "The Soledad Brothers"—who were also all Black Panther Party members arrested in the 60s after being charged for allegedly murdering a white prison guard.
Davis is a scholar at heart; she attempted running for Vice President twice in the 80s and is the author of several books about civil rights. She is still alive today, teaching at colleges and leading trailblazing conversations about civil rights, mass incarceration, and intersectional experiences Black women face in feminism.
The first Black woman to refuse to give up her bus seat for a white person was not Rosa Parks; it was actually Claudette Colvin. At the time, she was only 15 years old, and the event occurred ten months prior to Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat. Colvin wasn't as spoken about because of colorism issues, and her mother told her to keep quiet. In an interview with the New York Times in 2009, she stated that her mother told her, "Let Rosa be the one. White people aren't going to bother Rosa—her skin is lighter than yours, and they like her."
Assata Shakur, a.k.a. Joanne Deborah Chesimard, was a former Black Panther and Black Liberation Army activist. In 1973, Shakur was pulled over by New Jersey state troopers, shot twice, and charged with allegedly killing a police officer and several other alleged crimes. Law enforcement was trying to put her behind bars for months prior because of her association with those civil rights political groups.
She ended up serving six and a half years in prison and was brutally beaten during her time in jail. In 1979, she escaped jail with the help of Black Liberation Army members that posed as visitors and fled to Cuba. Assata was the first woman to be placed on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list because of her alleged charges and escaping jail. Over 30 years later and Cuba's government has still protected Shakur offering her political asylum.
Famous Black Women Writers You Oughta Know
I'm sure that most of us all heard of the late Maya Angelou at this point in life, but did many of us know her ethics, morals, and all that she stood for? Maya Angelou was a Civil Rights activist, author of several books, and a nominated Pulitzer Prize poet. Angelou's first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, received critical applause for its depiction of sexual assault and racism. She was also a lead factor in Black feminism, and she worked with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Audre Lorde was a Black lesbian feminist writer, librarian, and poet-activist. Her book Sister Outsider has become one of the most recognized and studied text in Black studies, women's studies, and queer theory. Her writing voice was confrontational, direct, and she stressed that it is up to the oppressor to educate themselves. Lorde is also known for her essays about sexual identity, homophobia, feminism, sexism, and class.
Bell Hooks is an activist, feminist, educator, and the author of over three dozen exquisitely written books. Hooks is known for writing critical essays regarding social injustice and several topics about the Black community. Some of her most popular books are Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, All About Love, and my all-time favorite Salvation: Black People and Love.
Famous Black Women Figures In Sports You Oughta Know
The first Black woman to compete in the U.S. National Championship in 1951 was Althea Gibson. Gibson opened the doors for Black athletics globally trailblazing as the legendary tennis player she was. She won single titles at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon in 1957 and 1958, and the Associated Press recognized her as the Female Athlete of the Year two years in a row. Gibson wasn't only excellent at tennis; in 1963, she also became a professional golfer right after winning some of her legendary tennis titles.
In 1960, Wilma Rudolph was named the fastest woman in the world and became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field in the same Olympic games. Rudolph used her platform championing civil rights, refusing to attend a segregated homecoming parade celebrating her victories. After she retired from track and field, Rudolph earned a degree from Tennessee State University and was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1994.
Sheryl Denise Swoopes
In 1997, Sheryl Denise Swoopes was the first player to be signed by the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA). Swoopes was nicknamed "the female Michael Jordan" because of her defensive and offensive skills on the basketball court. Over her fourteen-year WNBA career, she was a three-time Olympic gold medalist and a four-time WNBA champion. Sheryl was the first woman to have a Nike shoe named after her.
Black women have been lighting the way since the beginning of time—regardless of their setbacks, they are always known for their resilience and persistence through every storm.
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