People Nominate The Women Who Should Be Featured During Black History Month
I AM BLACK HISTORY
I was born 1996, an African American,
Bore the blood of my ancestors, in my veins inheriting,
The trait of beautiful mahogany brown skin,
And the blessing to flaunt the skin that I am in,
Passed down to me their passion for music, culture, and art,
Their love for dance and the love they share from the purest of hearts,
Today I honor them for my freedom their lives they gave,
As they continue to watch over us from their dearing grave,
When I grow up with drive and ambition,
Like Madame CJ Walker, I could change the world with my invention,
I could move the souls of people with my words of great meaning,
Like Martin Luther King Jr. who had a dream but I'm still dreaming,
I could make a status quo that'll stick with the world,
By any means necessary next to Malcom X, I would be the first girl,
Or I could start a movement like the bus boycott,
Started by Rosa Parks who wouldnt give up her spot,
Maybe I can start a group like the NAACP,
Fighting for the rights of the voices who aren't heard in society,
Possible isn't in my vocabulary because the possibilities are endless,
Due to my ancestors who showed me not to fight but proudly hold up a balled fist,
And to fight them verbally, not physically like the savages they expect you to,
Fight them mentally, morally about the the cries that aren't heard and the deaths that dont make it to the news,
To take a stand in this world and leave my legacy,
Because I AM the next generation, I AM BLACK HISTORY
Daisy Bates is known for her role in supporting the 1957 integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. She was a journalist, newspaper publisher, civil rights activist, and social reformer. Daisy Bates (11/11/1914 - 11/4/1999) was raised in Huttig, Arkansas, by adoptive parents after her mother was murdered by three white men.
In 1952, Daisy became the Arkansas branch president of the NAACP. In 1954, when the Supreme Court ruled racial segregation of schools was unconstitutional, Daisy and others worked to figure out how to integrate the Little Rock Schools. In the capital city of Arkansas, the Little Rock School Board agreed to comply with the high court's ruling. A plan of gradual integration was unanimously approved by the school board on May 24, 1955. The plan would be implemented during the fall of the 1957 school year.
Nine African-American students were chosen to actually be the first to integrate the previously all-white Little Rock Central High school; they became known as the Little Rock Nine. Daisy Bates was instrumental in supporting these nine students in their action.
But in September of 1957, Arkansas' Governor Orval Faubus arranged for the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the African American students from entering Central High School. In response to the action and protests of the action, President Eisenhower federalized the guard and sent in federal troops. On September 25, 1957, the nine students entered Central High amid angry protests.
The next month, Daisy and others were arrested for not turning over NAACP records. Though Daisy was no longer an officer of the NAACP, she was fined; her conviction was eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mary McLeod Bethune
Known as the "First Lady of the Struggle," Mary McLeod Bethune (7/10/1875 - 5/18/1955) was a trailblazing African-American educator and civil rights leader. Mary strongly believed that education was the key to equal rights and founded the groundbreaking Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute, now known as the Bethune-Cookman College, in 1904.
Passionate about both women's rights and civil rights, Mary served as president of the National Association of Colored Women and founded the National Council of Negro Women.
In an era when blacks were generally banned from positions of authority, Mary was president of a university, opened a hospital, was CEO of a company, advised four U.S. presidents, and was chosen to attend the founding convention of the United Nations.
Hallie Quinn Brown
Hallie Brown's parents were former slaves who married about 1840. Her father, who bought his freedom and that of family members, was the son of a Scottish plantation owner and her African American overseer; her mother was the granddaughter of a white planter who had fought in the Revolutionary War, and she was freed by this grandfather.
Hallie Brown's birth date is uncertain. It is given as early as 1845 and as late as 1855. Hallie Brown (3/10/1845, 1850, or 1855? - 9/16/1949) grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Chatham, Ontario.
She graduated from Wilberforce University in Ohio and taught in schools in Mississippi and South Carolina. In 1885 she became dean of Allen University in South Carolina and studied at the Chautauqua Lecture School. She taught public school in Dayton, Ohio, for four years, and then was appointed lady principal (dean of women) of Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, working with Booker T. Washington.
From 1893 to 1903, Hallie Brown served as professor of elocution at Wilberforce University, though on a limited basis as she lectured and organized, traveling frequently. She helped promote the Colored Woman's League which became part of the National Association of Colored Women. In Great Britain, where she spoke to popular acclaim on African American life, she made several appearances before Queen Victoria, including tea with the Queen in July 1889.
Hallie Brown also spoke for temperance groups. She took up the cause of woman suffrage and spoke on the topic of full citizenship for women as well as civil rights for black Americans. She represented the United States at the International Congress of Women, meeting in London in 1899. In 1925 she protested segregation of the Washington (DC) Auditorium being used for the All-American Musical Festival of the International Council of Women, threatening that all black performers would boycott the event if segregated seating were not ended.
Two hundred black entertainers did boycott the event and black participants left in response to her speech.
Hallie Brown served as president of several organizations after she retired from teaching, including the Ohio Federation of Colored Women's Clubs and the National Association of Colored Women. She served as a representative of the Women's Parent Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church at the World Missionary Conference in Scotland in 1910. She helped raise funds for Wilberforce University and helped initiate the drive to raise funds to preserve Frederick Douglass' home in Washington, DC, a project undertaken with the help of Douglass' second wife, Helen Pitts Douglass.
In 1924 Hallie Brown supported the Republican Party, speaking for Warren Harding's nomination at the Republican Party convention where she took the opportunity to speak up for civil rights. She published a few books, mostly connected with public speaking or famous women and men.
Marjorie Lee Browne
Marjorie Lee Browne, an educator and mathematician, was one of first two (or three?) black women to receive a doctorate in mathematics in the United States, 1949. In 1960, Marjorie Lee Browne wrote a grant to IBM to bring a computer to a college campus---one of the first such college computers, and likely the first at any historically black college. She lived from September 9, 1914 to October 19, 1979.
Born Marjorie Lee in Memphis, Tennessee, the future mathematician was a skilled tennis player and singer as well as showing early signs of mathematics talent. Her father, Lawrence Johnson Lee, was a railway postal clerk, and her mother died when Browne was two years old. She was raised by her father and a stepmother, Lottie Taylor Lee (or Mary Taylor Lee) who taught school.
She was educated at local public schools, then graduated from LeMoyne High School, a Methodist school for African Americans, in 1931. She went to Howard University for college, graduating cum laude in 1935 in mathematics. She then attended graduate school at the University of Michigan, earning an M.S. in mathematics in 1939. In 1949, Marjorie Lee Browne at the University of Michigan and Evelyn Boyd Granville (ten years younger) at Yale University became the first two African American women to earn Ph.D.'s in mathematics.
Browne's Ph.D. dissertation was in topology, a branch of mathematics related to geometry.
She taught in New Orleans for a year at Gilbert Academy, then taught in Texas at Wiley College, a historically black liberal arts college, from 1942 to 1945. She became a mathematics professor at North Carolina Central University, teaching there from 1950 to 1975.
She was the first chair of the math department, beginning in 1951. NCCU was the first public liberal arts school of higher education in the United States for African Americans.
She was rejected early in her career by major universities and taught in the South. She focused on preparing secondary school teachers to teach the "new math." She also worked to include women and people of color in careers in math and science. She often helped provide financial assistance to make it possible for students from poorer families to complete their education.
She began her math career before the explosion of efforts to expand those studying math and science in the wake of Russia's launching of the Sputnik satellite. She resisted the direction of math towards such practical applications as the space program, and instead worked with mathematics as pure numbers and concepts.
From 1952 to 1953, she studied combinatorial topology on a Ford Foundation fellowship at Cambridge University.
In 1957, she taught at the Summer Institute for Secondary School Science and Mathematics Teachers, under a National Science Foundation grant through NCCU. She was a National Science Foundation Faculty Fellow, University of California, studying computing and numerical analysis.
From 1965 to 1966, she studied differential topology at Columbia University on a fellowship.
Marian Wright Edelman
Marian Wright Edelman (6/6/1939 - ) was born in and grew up in Bennettsville, South Carolina, one of 5 children.
Her father, Arthur Wright, was a Baptist preacher who taught his children that Christianity required service in this world and who was influenced by A. Phillip Randolph. Her father died when Marian was only f14, urging in his last words to her, "Don't let anything get in the way of your education."
Marian went on to study at Spelman College, abroad on a Merrill scholarship, and she traveled to the Soviet Union with a Lisle fellowship. When she returned to Spelman in 1959, she became involved in the civil rights movement, inspiring her to drop her plans to enter the foreign service, and instead to study law. She studied law at Yale and worked as a student on a project to register African American voters in Mississippi.
In 1963, after graduating from Yale Law School, Marian worked first in New York for the NAACP Legal and Defense Fund, and then in Mississippi for the same organization.
There, she became the first African American woman to practice law. During her time in Mississippi, she worked on racial justice issues connected with the civil rights movement, and she also helped get a Head Start program established in her community.
During a tour by Robert Kennedy and Joseph Clark of Mississippi's poverty-ridden Delta slums, Marian met Peter Edelman, an assistant to Kennedy, and the next year she moved to Washington, D.C., to marry him and to work for social justice in the center of America's political scene. They had 3 sons.
In Washington, Marian continued her work, helping to get the Poor People's Campaign organized. She also began to focus more on issues relating to child development and children in poverty.
Marian established the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) in 1973 as a voice for poor, minority and handicapped children. She served as a public speaker on behalf of these children, and also as a lobbyist in Congress, as well as president and administrative head of the organization. The agency served not only as an advocacy organization, but as a research center, documenting the problems and possible solutions to children in need. To keep the agency independent, she saw that it was financed entirely with private funds.
Marian also published her ideas in several books. The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours was a surprising success.
In the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was elected President, Hillary Clinton's involvement with the CDF meant that there was significantly more attention given to the organization. But Marion did not pull her punches in criticizing the Clinton administration's legislative agenda - such as its "welfare reform" initiatives - when she believed these would be disadvantageous to the nation's neediest children.
As part of the efforts of Marian and the CDF on behalf of children, she has also advocated pregnancy prevention, child care funding, health care funding, prenatal care, parental responsibility for education in values, reducing the violent images presented to children, and selective gun control in the wake of school shootings.
Charlotte Forten Grimké
Charlotte Forten (8/17/1837 or 1838 -- 7/23/1914) was born into a prominent African American family in Philadelphia. Her father, Robert, was the son of James Forten (1766-1842), a businessman and antislavery activist who was a leader in Philadelphia's free black community.
Charlotte was taught at home until her father sent her to Salem, Massachusetts, where the schools were integrated. She lived there with the family of Charles Lenox Remond, also abolitionists. She met many of the famous abolitionists of the time there, and also literary figures. James Greenleaf Whittier, one of those, was to become important in her life. She also joined the Female Anti-Slavery Society there and began writing poems and keeping a diary.
After graduation, she took a job teaching at the all-white Epes Grammar School, the first black teacher there; she was the first African American teacher hired by Massachusetts public schools and may have been the first African American in the nation hired by any school to teach white students.
She became ill, probably with tuberculosis, and returned to live with her family in Philadelphia for three years.
She went back and forth between Salem and Philadelphia, teaching and then nurturing her fragile health.
In 1862, she heard of an opportunity for teaching former slaves, freed by the Union forces on islands off South Carolina's coast and technically "war contraband." Whittier urged her to go teach there, and she set off for a position at Saint Helena Island in the Port Royal Islands with a recommendation from him. At first, she was not accepted by the black students there, due to considerable class and culture differences, but gradually became more successful relating to her charges. In 1864, she contracted smallpox and then heard that her father had died of typhoid. She returned to Philadelphia to heal.
Back in Philadelphia, she began to write of her experiences. She sent her essays to Whittier, who got them published as "Life on Sea Islands."
In 1865, Forten, her health better, took a position working in Massachusetts with the Freedman's Union Commission. In 1869, she published her English translation of the French novel Madam Therese. By 1870, she listed herself in the Philadelphia census as "authoress." In 1871, she moved to South Carolina, teaching at Shaw Memorial School, also founded for education of the recently-freed slaves. She left that position later that year, and in 1871 -- 1872, she was in Washington, DC, teaching and serving as assistant principal at Sumner High School. She left that position to work as a clerk.
In Washington, Charlotte Forten joined the 15th Street Presbyterian Church, a prominent church for the black community in DC. There, in the late 1870s, she met the Rev. Francis James Grimké. On December 9, 1878, 26-year-old Francis married 41-year-old Charlotte.
Francis officiated at the 1884 wedding of Frederick Douglass and Helen Pitts Douglass, a marriage that was considered scandalous in both black and white circles.
Charlotte continued publishing poetry and essays. In 1896, Charlotte helped to found the National Association of Colored Women.
Fannie Lou Hamer
"Nobody's free until everybody's free."
Many people recognize this quote, but don't know who said it. Known for her civil rights activism, Fannie Lou Hamer (10/6/1917 - 3/14/1977) was called "the spirit of the civil rights movement."
Born a sharecropper, she worked from the age of six as a timekeeper on a cotton plantation. In 1962, Fannie Lou volunteered to work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) registering black voters in the South. She and the rest of her family lost their jobs for her involvement, and SNCC hired her as a field secretary. She was able to register to vote for the first time in her life in 1963, and then taught others what they'd need to know to pass the then-required literacy test. In her organizing work, she often led the activists in singing Christian hymns about freedom: "This Little Light of Mine" and others.
In 1963, after being charged with disorderly conduct for refusing to go along with a restaurant's "whites only" policy, Fannie Lou was beaten so badly in jail, and refused medical treatment, that she was permanently disabled.
She helped organize the 1964 "Freedom Summer" in Mississippi, a campaign sponsored by SNCC, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the NAACP.
Because African Americans were excluded from the Mississippi Democratic Party, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was formed, with Fannie Lou as a founding member and vice president. The MFDP sent an alternate delegation to the 1964 Democratic National Convention, with 64 black and 4 white delegates. Fannie Lou testified to the convention's Credentials Committee about violence and discrimination faced by black voters trying to register to vote, and her testimony was televised nationally.
The MFDP refused a compromise offered to seat two of their delegates, and returned to further political organizing in Mississippi, and in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.
From 1968 to 1971, Fannie Lou was a member of the Democratic National Committee for Mississippi. Her 1970 lawsuit, Hamer v. Sunflower County, demanded school desegregation. She ran unsuccessfully for the Mississippi state Senate in 1971, and successfully for delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1972.
She also lectured extensively and was known for a signature line she often used, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired." She was known as a powerful speaker, and her singing voice lent another power to civil rights meetings.
Fannie Lou brought a Head Start program to her local community, formed a local Pig Bank cooperative (1968) with the help of the National Council of Negro Women, and later founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative (1969). She helped found the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971, speaking for inclusion of racial issues in the feminist agenda.
In 1972 the Mississippi House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring her national and state activism, passing 116 to 0.
Suffering from breast cancer, diabetes, and heart problems, Fannie Lou Hamer died in Mississippi in 1977.
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (9/24/1825 - 2/20/1911), born to free black parents, orphaned by the age of three, and raised by an aunt and uncle. She studied Bible, literature, and public speaking at a school founded by her uncle, William Watkins Academy for Negro Youth. At 14, she needed to work, but could only find jobs in domestic service and as a seamstress. She published her first volume of poetry in Baltimore about 1845, Forest Leaves or Autumn Leaves, but no copies are now known to exist.
Watkins moved from Maryland, a slave state, to Ohio, a free state in 1850, the year of the Fugitive Slave Act. In Ohio she taught domestic science as the first woman faculty member at Union Seminary, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) school which later was merged into Wilberforce University.
A new law in 1853 prohibited any free black persons from re-entering Maryland. In 1854, she moved to Pennsylvania for a teaching job in Little York.
The next year she moved to Philadelphia. During these years, she became involved in the anti-slavery movement and with the Underground Railroad.
Watkins lectured frequently on abolitionism in New England, the Midwest, and California, and also published poetry in magazines and newspapers.
Her Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects, published in 1854 with a preface by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, sold more than 10,000 copies and was reissued and reprinted several times.
After the Civil War, Frances Harper visited the South and saw the appalling conditions, especially of black women, of Reconstruction. She lectured on the need for equal rights for "the Colored Race" and also on rights for women. She founded YMCA Sunday Schools, and she was a leader in the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). She joined the American Equal Rights Association and the American Women's Suffrage Association, working with the branch of the women's movement that worked for both racial and women's equality.
In 1893, a group of women gathered in connection with the World's Fair as the World's Congress of Representative Women. Harper joined with others including Fannie Barrier Williams to charge those organizing the gathering with excluding African American women.
Harper's address at the Columbian Exposition was on "Women's Political Future."
Realizing the virtual exclusion of black women from the suffrage movement, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper joined with others to form the National Association of Colored Women. She became the first vice-president of the organization.
Anna Arnold Hedgeman
Anna Arnold Hedgeman (7/5/1899 - 1/17/1990) lifetime of accomplishments included many firsts:
- First black woman to graduate from Hamline University (1922) - the university now has a scholarship named for her
- First black woman to serve on a New York City mayoral cabinet (1954-1958)
- First black person to hold a Federal Security Agency position
Anna Arnold Hedgeman was also the only woman on the executive committee that organized Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous March on Washington in 1963. Patrik Henry Bass called her "instrumental in organizing the march" and "the conscience of the march". When Anna Arnold Hedgeman realized there were going to be no female speakers at the event, she protested the minimal recognition of women who were civil rights heroes. She succeeded in persuading the committee that this oversight was a mistake, which led eventually to Daisy Bates being invited to speak that day at the Lincoln Memorial.
Anna Arnold Hedgeman served temporarily as the first executive vice-president of NOW. Aileen Hernandez, who had been serving on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was elected executive vice-president in absentia when the first NOW officers were selected in 1966. Anna Arnold Hedgeman served as temporary executive vice-president until Aileen Hernandez officially stepped down from the EEOC and took the NOW position in March 1967.
Anna Arnold Hedgeman was the first chair of NOW's Task Force on Women in Poverty. In her 1967 task force report, she called for a meaningful expansion of economic opportunities for women and said there were no jobs or opportunities for women "at the bottom of the heap" to move into. Her suggestions included job training, job creation, regional and city planning, attention to high school dropouts and an end to the ignoring of women and girls in federal job and poverty-related programs.
In addition to NOW, Anna Arnold Hedgeman was involved with organizations including the YWCA, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, the National Council of Churches' Commission on Religion and Race and the National Council for a Permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission. She ran for Congress and president of the New York City Council, drawing attention to social issues even when she lost the elections.
Dr. Mae C. Jemison (10/17/1956 - ) is a chemical engineer, scientist, physician, teacher, NASA astronaut, and actor. Over the course of her career, she has worked in engineering and medical research, and was invited to be part of a Star Trek: Next Generation episode, becoming the first NASA astronaut to also serve in the fictional Starfleet.
In addition to her extensive background in science, Mae is well-versed in African and African-American studies. As well as English, Mae speaks fluent Russian, Japanese, and Swahili and is trained in dance and choreography.
Mae attended Stanford University, where she earned a BS in Chemical Engineering. In 1981, she received a Doctor of Medicine degree from Cornell University. While enrolled at Cornell Medical School, Dr. Jemison traveled to Cuba, Kenya and Thailand, providing primary medical care to the people living in these nations.
After graduating from Cornell, Dr. Jemison served in the Peace Corps, where she supervised the pharmacy, laboratory, medical staff as well as provided medical care, wrote self-care manuals, developed and implemented guidelines for health and safety issues.
Also working in conjunction with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) she helped with research for various vaccines.
Dr. Jemison returned to the U.S., and worked with CIGNA Health Plans of California as a general practitioner. She enrolled in graduate classes in engineering and applied to NASA for admission to the astronaut program.
She joined the corps in 1987 and successfully completed her astronaut training, becoming the fifth black astronaut and the first black female astronaut in NASA history. She was the science mission specialist on STS-47, a cooperative mission between the U.S. and Japan. Dr. Jemison was a co-investigator on the bone cell research experiment flown on the mission.
Mae left NASA in 1993. She is currently a professor at Cornell University and is a proponent of science education in the schools, particularly encouraging minority students to pursue STEM careers. She founded the Jemison Group to research and develop technology for daily life, and is heavily involved in the 100 Year Starship Project. She also created BioSentient Corp, a company aimed at developing portable technology to monitor the nervous system, with an eye toward treating a variety of related disorders and illnesses.
Florynce Rae "Flo" Kennedy (2/11/1916 - 12/21/2000) was an American lawyer, feminist, civil rights advocate, lecturer and activist.
In 1944 she began classes at Columbia University School of General Studies, majoring in pre-law and graduated in 1949. However, when she applied to the university's law school, she was refused admission. In her autobiography Kennedy wrote: "The Associate Dean, Willis Reese, told me I had been rejected not because I was a Black but because I was a woman. So I wrote him a letter saying that whatever the reason was, it felt the same to me, and some of my more cynical friends thought I had been discriminated against because I was Black."
Kennedy met with the dean and threatened to sue the school. They admitted her. She was the only black person among eight women in her class. In a 1946 sociology class at Columbia University Kennedy wrote a paper that analogized the discourses of race and sex. "Kennedy hoped that comparing 'women' and 'Negroes' would hasten the formation of alliances".
Kennedy graduated from Columbia Law School in 1951.
By 1954 she had opened her own office, doing matrimonial work, and some assigned criminal cases. She was a member of the Young Democrats. In 1956, she formed a legal partnership with the lawyer who had represented Billie Holiday in regards to drug charges. Kennedy then came to represent Holiday's estate, and also that of Charlie Parker.
Kennedy used Intersectionality as her approach to activism.
"My main message is that we have a pathologically, institutionally racist, sexist, classist society. And that niggerizing techniques that are used don't only damage black people, but they also damage women, gay people, ex-prison inmates, prostitutes, children, old people, handicapped people, native Americans. And that if we can begin to analyze the pathology of oppression... we would learn a lot about how to deal with it." Kennedy kept revisiting the same aim: "urging women to examine the sources of their oppression". She spoke of day to day acts of resistance that we can all take. Kennedy summed up her protest strategy as "Making white people nervous".
In 1656, Elizabeth Key made history when she sued for her and her son John's freedom in Virginia and won. Elizabeth was the daughter of an Englishman, Thomas Key, and an unnamed African slave. on July 21, 1656, the court found that Elizabeth Key and her son John were in fact free persons.
She married her lawyer, and John's father William Grinstead. Elizabeth had a second son by Grinstead, named William Grinstead II. Grinstead died in 1661, after only five years of marriage. Elizabeth then married another English settler named John Parse or Pearce. When he died, he left 500 acres to Elizabeth and her sons, which allowed them to live out their lives in peace.
There are many descendants of Elizabeth and William Grinstead, including a number of famous people.
Wangari Muta Maathai (1/1/1940 - 9/25/2011) Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt movement in Kenya in 1977, which has planted more than 10 million trees to prevent soil erosion and provide firewood for cooking fires. A 1989 United Nations report noted that only 9 trees were being replanted in Africa for every 100 that were cut down, causing serious problems with deforestation: soil runoff, water pollution, difficulty finding firewood, lack of animal nutrition, etc.
The program has been carried out primarily by women in the villages of Kenya, who through protecting their environment and through the paid employment for planting the trees are able to better care for their children and their children's future.
Born in 1940 in Nyeri, Wangari Maathai was able to pursue higher education, a rarity for girls in rural areas of Kenya. Studying in the United States, she earned her biology degree from Mount St. Scholastica College in Kansas and a master's degree at the University of Pittsburgh.
When she returned to Kenya, Wangari Maathai worked in veterinary medicine research at the University of Nairobi, and eventually, despite the skepticism and even opposition of the male students and faculty, was able to earn a Ph.D. there. She worked her way up through the academic ranks, becoming head of the veterinary medicine faculty, a first for a woman at any department at that university.
Wangari Maathai's husband ran for Parliament in the 1970s, and Wangari Maathai became involved in organizing work for poor people and eventually this became a national grass-roots organization, providing work and improving the environment at the same time. The project has made significant headway against Kenya's deforestation.
Wangari Maathai continued her work with the Green Belt Movement, and working for environmental and women's causes. She also served as national chairperson for the National Council of Women of Kenya.
In 1997 Wangari Maathai ran for the presidency of Kenya, though the party withdrew her candidacy a few days before the election without letting her know; she was defeated for a seat in Parliament in the same election.
In 1998, Wangari Maathai gained worldwide attention when the Kenyan President backed development of a luxury housing project and building began by clearing hundreds of acres of Kenya forest.
In 1991, Wangari Maathai was arrested and imprisoned; an Amnesty International letter-writing campaign helped free her. In 1999 she suffered head injuries when attacked while planting trees in the Karura Public Forest in Nairobi, part of a protest against continuing deforestation.
She was arrested numerous times by the government of Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi.
In January, 2002, Wangari Maathai accepted a position as Visiting Fellow at Yale University's Global Institute for Sustainable Forestry.
And in December, 2002, Wangari Maathai was elected to Parliament, as Mwai Kibaki defeated Maathai's long-time political nemesis, Daniel arap Moi, for 24 years the President of Kenya. Kibaki named Maathai as Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife in January, 2003.
Wangari Maathai died in Nairobi in 2011 of cancer.
Nichelle Nichols, born Grace Dell Nichols (12/28/1932 - ) is an American actress, singer, voice artist, and NASA ambassador. She sang with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton before turning to acting.
Her most famous role is in the popular Star Trek television series (1966--1969), as well as the succeeding motion pictures, where she played communications officer Lieutenant, then Commander, Nyota Uhura aboard the USS Enterprise. Nichols' role was groundbreaking as one of the first African American female characters on American television not portrayed as a servant. She also worked to recruit diverse astronauts to NASA, including women and ethnic minorities. From the late 1970's until the late 1980's, NASA employed Nichelle to recruit new astronaut candidates. Many of her new recruits were women or members of racial and ethnic minorities, including Guion Bluford (the first African-American astronaut), Sally Ride (the first female American astronaut), Judith Resnik (one of the original set of female astronauts, and Ronald McNair (the second African-American astronaut who perished during the launch of the Challenger on January 28, 1986).
Maria W. Stewart
Maria W. Stewart (1803(?) - 12/17/1879) began supporting herself at 15 by working as a servant. In 1826 she married James W. Stewart.
With her marriage, Maria became part of Boston's small free black middle class. She became involved in some of the institutions founded by that black community, including the Massachusetts General Colored Association, which worked for immediate abolition of slavery.
James died in 1829, but the inheritance he left was taken from Maria through long legal action by the white executors of her husband's will, and she was left with nothing.
Maria was inspired by the African American abolitionist, David Walker. When he died six months after her husband, she went through a religious conversion. She became convinced God was calling her to become a "warrior for God and for freedom and for the cause of oppressed Africa." Maria connected with abolitionist publisher William Lloyd Garrison when he advertised for writings by black women. She came to his paper's office with several essays on religion, racism and slavery. In 1831 Garrison published her first essay, Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality.
She also began public speaking at a time when Biblical injunctions against women teaching were interpreted to prohibit women speaking in public, especially to audiences that included men. Frances Wright had created a public scandal by speaking in public in 1828.
For her first address, in 1832, Maria spoke before a women-only audience at the African American Female Intelligence Society, an institution founded by the free black community of Boston. She used the Bible to defend her right to speak, and spoke on both religion and justice, advocating activism for equality. The text of the talk was published in Garrison's newspaper on April 28, 1832.
On September 21, 1832, Maria delivered a second lecture, this time to an audience that included men. She spoke at Franklin Hall, the site of the New England Anti-Slavery Society meetings. In her speech, she questioned whether free blacks were much more free than slaves, given the lack of opportunity and equality. She also questioned the move to send free blacks back to Africa.
Garrison published more of her writings and the text of her speeches in his abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator. In 1832, Garrison published more of her writings as Meditations from the Pen of Mrs. Maria Stewart.
On February 27, 1833, Maria delivered her third public lecture, "African Rights and Liberty."
Her fourth and final Boston lecture was a "Farewell Address" on September 21, 1833. She addressed the negative reaction her public speaking provoked, expressing both her dismay at having little effect, and her sense of divine call to speak publicly. Then she moved to New York.
In 1835, Garrison published a pamphlet with her four speeches plus some essays and poems titled Productions of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart. These inspired other women to begin public speaking.
In New York, Stewart remained an activist, attending the 1837 Women's Anti-slavery Convention. A strong advocate for literacy and educational opportunities for African Americans and women, she supported herself teaching in public schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn, becoming an assistant to the principal of the Williamsburg School. She was also active in a black women's literary group.
Mary Church Terrell
Mary Church Terrell (9/23/1863 - 7/24/1954) was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the same year President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Her mother was a hair salon operator. They lived in a mostly-white neighborhood and young Mary was protected from most experiences of racism, although her father was shot during the Memphis race riots of 1866. It was not until she was five, hearing stories from her grandmother about slavery, that she became conscious of African American history.
Her parents divorced and her mother had custody. In 1873, the family sent her north to Yellow Springs and then Oberlin for school. Terrell split her summers between visiting her father in Memphis and her mother in New York City. Terrell graduated from Oberlin College, one of the few integrated colleges in the country, in 1884. She had taken the "gentleman's course" rather than the easier, shorter women's program.
Mary moved back to Memphis to live with her father, but her father opposed her working. When he remarried, Mary accepted a teaching position in Xenia, Ohio, and then another in Washington, DC. After completing her masters degree at Oberlin while living in Washington, she spent two years traveling in Europe with her father. In 1890, she returned to teach at the Washington, DC school.
She renewed her friendship with her supervisor at the school, Robert Heberton Terrell. They married in 1891. Mary left her employment upon marriage. Robert Terrell was admitted to the bar in 1883 in Washington and, from 1911 to 1925, taught law at Howard University. He served as a judge of the District of Columbia Municipal Court from 1902 to 1925. The first three children Mary bore died shortly after birth. Her daughter, Phyllis, was born in 1898. In the meantime, Mary had become very active in social reform and volunteer work, including working with black women's organizations and for women's suffrage in the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Susan B. Anthony and she became friends. Mary also worked for kindergartens and child care, especially for children of working mothers.
Excluded from full participation in planning with other women for activities at the 1893 World's Fair, Mary threw her efforts into building up black women's organizations that would work to end both gender and racial discrimination.
She helped engineer the merger of black women's clubs to form the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1896. She was its first president, serving in that capacity until 1901, when she was appointed honorary president for life.
During the 1890s, Mary's increasing skill in and recognition for public speaking led her to take up lecturing as a profession. She became a friend of and worked with W.E.B. DuBois, and he invited her to become one of the charter members when the NAACP was founded.
Mary also served on the Washington, DC school board, from 1895 to 1901 and again from 1906 to 1911, the first African American woman to serve on that body. In 1910, she helped found the College Alumni Club.
In the 1920s, Mary worked with the Republican National Committee on behalf of women and African Americans.
Widowed when her husband died in 1925, Mary continued her lecturing, volunteer work, and activism.
In 1940 she published her autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World. In her last years, she picketed and worked in the campaign to end discrimination in Washington, DC.
A'Lelia Walker (6/6/1885 - 8/16/1931) born Lelia McWilliams in Mississippi moved with her mother, Madam C. J. Walker, to Saint Louis when A'Lelia was two years old. A'Lelia was well-educated though her mother was illiterate; her mother saw to it that A'Lelia attended college, at Knoxville College in Tennessee.
As her mother's beauty and hair care business grew, A'Lelia worked with her mother in the business. A'Lelia took charge of the mail order part of the business, working out of Pittsburgh.
In 1908, mother and daughter set up a beauty school in Pittsburgh to train women in the Walker method of hair processing. The operation was called Lelia College. Madam Walker moved the business headquarters to Indianapolis in 1900. A'Lelia Walker set up a second Lelia College in 1913, this one in New York.
After Madam Walker's death, A'Lelia Walker ran the business, becoming president in 1919. She renamed herself about the time of her mother's death. She built the large Walker Building in Indianapolis in 1928.
During the Harlem Renaissance, A'Lelia Walker hosted many parties that brought together artists, writers, and intellectuals. She held the parties in her New York townhouse apartment, called the Dark Tower, and at her country villa, Lewaro, originally owned by her mother.
Langston Hughes dubbed A'Lelia Walker the "joy goddess" of the Harlem Renaissance for her parties and patronage.
The parties ended with the beginning of the Great Depression, and A'Lelia Walker sold the Dark Tower in 1930.
The six-foot-tall A'Lelia Walker was married three times and had an adopted daughter, Mae.
A'Lelia Walker died in 1931. The eulogy at her funeral was delivered by the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. Mary McLeod Bethune also spoke at the funeral. Langston Hughes wrote a poem for the occasion, "To A'Lelia."
Maggie Lena Walker
Maggie Lena Walker (7/15/1867 - 12/15/1934) was the daughter of Elizabeth Draper, who had been enslaved in her early years. Draper worked as a cook's assistant in the home of the noted Civil War spy Elizabeth Van Lew. Maggie Walker's father was Eccles Cuthbert, an Irish journalist and Northern abolitionist.
Maggie attended school in Richmond, Virginia's segregated schools. Maggie graduated from Colored Normal School in 1883. A protest by the ten African American students over being forced to graduate in a church led to a compromise allowing them to graduate at their school.
It was not Maggie's first involvement in something beyond the ordinary for a young girl. In high school, she joined a fraternal organization in Richmond, the Independent Order of St. Luke Society (IOSLS). This organization provided health insurance and burial benefits for members and was involved in self-help and racial pride activities. Maggie Walker helped form a juvenile division of the Society.
Maggie married Armstead Walker, jr., after meeting him at church. She gave up her job, as expected for teachers at the time. While raising their children, she put more efforts into volunteer work with the IOSLS. She was elected Secretary in 1899, at a time the Society was on the brink of failing. Instead, Maggie Walker took on a major membership drive, lecturing not only in and around Richmond but around the country. She built it up to more than 100,000 members in more than 20 states.
In 1903, Maggie Walker saw an opportunity for the Society and formed a bank, the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, and served as president of the bank until 1932. This made her the first (known) woman bank president in the United States.
She also led the Society to more self-help programs and philanthropic efforts, founded an African American newspaper in 1902 for which she wrote a column for many years, and lectured extensively on race and women's issues.
In 1905, the Walkers moved into a large home in Richmond, which after her death became a national historic site maintained by the National Parks Service. In 1907, a fall at her home caused permanent nerve damage. She had trouble walking the rest of her life, leading to the nickname, the Lame Lioness.
In the 1910s and 1920s, Maggie served on a number of organizational boards, including the executive committee of the National Association of Colored Women and more than 10 years on the board of the NAACP.
In 1921, Maggie ran as a Republican for state Superintendent of Public Instruction. By 1928, between her old injury and diabetes, she was wheelchair-bound.
In 1931, with the Depression, Maggie helped merge her bank with several other African American banks, into the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company. With her ill health, she retired as bank president and became board chair of the merged bank.
Ida B Wells-Barnett
Ida B. Wells-Barnett (7/16/1862 - 3/25/1931) was an anti-lynching activist, a journalist, a lecturer, and an activist for racial justice.
Born into slavery, Ida went to work as a teacher to support her family after her parents died in an epidemic.
In 1880, after seeing her brothers placed as apprentices, she moved with her two younger sisters to live with a relative in Memphis. There, she obtained a teaching position at a black school, and began taking classes at Fisk University in Nashville during summers. Ida also began writing for the Negro Press Association. She became editor of a weekly, Evening Star, and then of Living Way, writing under the pen name Iola. Her articles were reprinted in other black newspapers around the country.
In 1884, while riding in the ladies' train car on a trip to Nashville, Ida was forcibly removed from that car and forced into a colored-only car, even though she had a first class ticket. She sued the railroad and won a settlement of $500. But in 1887, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the verdict and Ida had to pay court costs of $200.
She wrote on racial justice for Memphis newspapers as a reporter and newspaper owner.
Lynching in that time had become one common means by which African Americans were intimidated. Nationally, in about 200 lynchings each year, about two-thirds of the victims were black men, but the percentage was much higher in the South.
Ida wrote against lynching in general. In particular, the white community became incensed when she published an editorial denouncing the myth that black men raped white women and her allusion to the idea that white women might consent to a relationship with black men was particularly offensive to the white community. She was forced to leave town when a mob attacked her offices in retaliation for writing against an 1892 lynching.
Ida was out of town when a mob invaded her paper's offices and destroyed the presses, responding to a call in a white-owned paper. Ida heard that her life was threatened if she returned, so she went to New York.
Ida continued writing newspaper articles at New York Age, where she exchanged the subscription list of Memphis Free Speech for a part ownership in the paper. She also wrote pamphlets and spoke widely against lynching.
In 1893, Ida went to Great Britain, returning again in 1894. There, she spoke about lynching in America, found significant support for anti-lynching efforts, and saw the organization of the British Anti-Lynching Society.
She moved to Chicago, where she worked with Frederick Douglass and local lawyer and editor Frederick Barnett on an 81-page booklet about the exclusion of black participants from most of the events around the Columbian Exposition. Ida married Barnett and became involved in local racial justice reporting and organizing. She also wrote for his newspaper, the Chicago Conservator.
In 1895 Ida published A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the United States 1892 - 1893 - 1894. She documented that lynchings were not, indeed, caused by black men raping white women.
From 1898-1902, Ida served as secretary of the National Afro-American Council. In 1898, she was part of a delegation to President William McKinley to seek justice after the lynching in South Carolina of a black postman.
In 1900, she spoke for women's suffrage and worked with another Chicago woman, Jane Addams, to defeat an attempt to segregate Chicago's public school system.
In 1901, the Barnetts bought the first house east of State Street to be owned by a black family. Despite harassment and threats, they continued to live in the neighborhood.
Ida was a founding member of the NAACP in 1909, but withdrew her membership, criticizing the organization for not being militant enough. In her writing and lectures, she often criticized middle-class blacks including ministers for not being active enough in helping the poor in the black community.
In 1910, Ida helped found and became president of the Negro Fellowship League, which established a settlement house in Chicago to serve the many African Americans newly arrived from the South. She worked for the city as a probation officer from 1913-1916, donating most of her salary to the organization. But with competition from other groups, the election of an unfriendly city administration, and Ida's poor health, the League closed its doors in 1920.
In 1913, Ida organized the Alpha Suffrage League, an organization of African American women supporting women's suffrage. She was active in protesting the strategy of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the largest pro-suffrage group, on participation of African Americans and how they treated racial issues. The NAWSA generally made participation of African Americans invisible - even while claiming that no African American women had applied for membership - so as to try to win votes for suffrage in the South. By forming the Alpha Suffrage League, Ida made clear that the exclusion was deliberate, and that African American women and men did support woman suffrage, even knowing that other laws and practices that barred African American men from voting would also affect women.
A major suffrage demonstration in Washington, DC, timed to align with the presidential inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, asked that African American supporters march at the back of the line. Many African American suffragists, like Mary Church Terrell, agreed, for strategic reasons after initial attempts to change the minds of the leadership -- but not Ida. She inserted herself into the march with the Illinois delegation, after the march started, and the delegation welcomed her. The leadership of the march simply ignored her action.
Also in 1913, Ida was part of a delegation to see President Wilson to urge non-discrimination in federal jobs. She was elected as chair of the Chicago Equal Rights League in 1915, and in 1918 organized legal aid for victims of the Chicago race riots of 1918.
In 1915, she was part of the successful election campaign that led to Oscar Stanton De Priest becoming the first African American alderman in the city.
She was also part of founding the first kindergarten for black children in Chicago.
In 1924, Ida failed in a bid to win election as president of the National Association of Colored Women, defeated by Mary McLeod Bethune. In 1930, she failed in a bid to be elected to the Illinois State Senate as an independent.
Although anti-lynching was her main focus, and she did achieve considerable visibility of the problem, she never achieved her goal of federal anti-lynching legislation. Her lasting success was in the area of organizing black women.