In a time where many people can name only Beyonce, Michelle Obama, and Angela Davis as examples of strong, black women it is important to acknowledge the contributions of other women who helped to shape history. Take a peek at the list below and get some new inspiration to be great!
Dr. Frances Cress Welsing
What woman inspired Public Enemy to create one of their most prolific, poignant albums while simultaneously analyzing and confronting global white supremacy? Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, that’s who! Not only an activist, but also a psychiatrist, she confronted the issue of white supremacy from a psychological standpoint that received much controversy. Her research focused on improving the mental health of those within the black community, which in turn lead her to study and analyze race and culture. An alum of Howard University’s medical school, Dr. Cress Welsing presented two groundbreaking papers called the “Cress Theory of Color Confrontation (White Supremacy)” as well as “The Isis Papers.”
Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune, the daughter of former slaves, not only co-founded a still-functioning university (Bethune-Cookman University), but also a civil rights organization focused on black women, in addition to working as an adviser to numerous presidents, including FDR. As an educator, she believed that education provided the key to racial advancement and strove to ensure that future generations had better educational opportunities than the preceding generations. In her will she stated, “I leave you a thirst for education. Knowledge is the prime need of the hour.”
Shaped by stories told by her grandmother, a former slave, Ella Baker developed an appetite of social justice. Ella Baker worked not only as the field secretary but also branch director of the NAACP and went on to serve in the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee). In these organizations she acted as inspiration for young, fresh activists and helped to organize voter registration efforts as well as the famous Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins. Her impact on future generations became apparent with her nickname “Fundi,” which is a Swahili word meaning a person who teaches a craft to the next generation.
Credited with being the “Soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement,” Nina Simone’s name has been uttered many times without many truly understanding the way that she has impacted music. Music as a form of protest did not begin with Ms. Simone as many allude to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” as one of the first black protest songs in contemporary conscience; however, “Mississippi Goddam,” “Four Women,” and “Young, Gifted, and Black” are all testaments to her activism in music.
If you’ve heard of Elaine Brown it’s probably in relation to her work with the Black Panther Party during their height; however, her work does not end there. As recently as 2010, Ms. Brown worked with inmates at a Georgia correctional facility to organize a nonviolent strike within the prison walls. Her early work with the Black Panther Party included assisting in the creation of the Free Breakfast Program in Los Angeles in addition to acting as the Minister of Information. Despite leaving the Black Panther Party due to internal misogyny, or more specifically misogynoir, Brown continued her work tackling the issues of educational opportunity and prison reform.
Zora Neale Hurston
Mostly remembered for her 1937 novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Zora Neale Hurston worked tirelessly as a researcher and scholar. Growing up in Eatonville, Florida, one of the first self-governing all black towns in the country, Hurston used her hometown as a backdrop for her various novels. Throughout her life she sought education and knowledge, first as a student at Morgan College and then at Howard University. After she graduated she went on to Harlem and soon become one of the most notable writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Her 1930s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, spun her into super stardom as she received numerous accolades from this literary masterpiece.
Dani Washington is a 20-something expat from DC. Aside from finding the coolest new music, she loves great food, and getting lost in new cities. Connect with Dani and learn about her various adventures on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/thatsdani__/) and her blog (https://danienespana.wordpress.com).