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Black History is World History: 7 Influential Black Women


Carter G. Woodson, one of the first African-Americans to graduate from Harvard University with a doctorate degree, is credited with establishing Black History Week (then called “Negro History Week”) in 1926, designed to highlight and celebrate the Black experience.

The event was first celebrated during the second week of February 1926, selected because it coincides with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and abolitionist/writer Frederick Douglass (celebrated February 14).

Since then, U.S. presidents have proclaimed February as National Black History Month. Canada officially recognized Black History Month in 1995 where it’s also celebrated in February. The UK recognizes its own version of Black History Month every October to honor its African and Caribbean immigrants.

In this post, you'll discover seven influential women of African descent who have left their mark in shaping Black history.

WANGARI MAATHAI

Born April 1, 1940 in a small village in the central highlands of what was then British Kenya… Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement (GBM) in 1977 and there mobilized poor women to plant nearly 30 million trees.

MAYA ANGELOU

Considered one of the greatest writers in the United States, Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. She was the first African-American woman to recite her poetry at a US presidential inauguration, the first African-American woman to make the non-fiction bestseller’s list, the first African-American woman to have an original screenplay produced for the movie Georgia, Georgia in 1972.

SOJOURNER TRUTH

Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree. In 1826, she took her youngest daughter Sophia, her belongings in a cotton pillowcase and on an autumn day "walked away by daylight" to seek her freedom. During her lifetime, she supported the cause of the Underground Railroad, she was the first black woman to force her way onto an all-white street car in Washington.

MADAM C.J. WALKER

Born in a one-room cabin with a fireplace on a cotton plantation on Delta, Louisiana. Madam C.J. Walker (n. Sarah Breedlove), would build a beauty empire employing 40,000 African American women and men in the US, Central America, and the Caribbean. She also founded the National Negro Cosmetics Manufacturers Association.

HARRIET TUBMAN

Harriet Tubman assisted hundreds of slaves on the Underground Railroad. She worked for the union army as a spy, scout, nurse and cook from 1862 to 1865, during the American Civil War. She witnessed the attack on Fort Wagner, led by the 54th Massachusetts, the first black regiment organized in the north.

FRANCES HARPER

Frances Ellen Watkins was a lecturer, poet, abolitionist, suffragist, and reformer born in Baltimore, Maryland. She emphasized that Black women were facing the double burden of racism and sexism at the same time, therefore the fight for women’s suffrage must include suffrage for African Americans.

MAGGIE WALKER

Born in Richmond, Virginia, Maggie Walker was the first female African-American bank president in the United States. In 1903, she founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, offering checking and savings accounts, mortgages, and loans to provide economic empowerment to women and help strengthen Richmond's emerging black middle class.

Did You Know?

  • “Bars Fight,” written by poet and activist Lucy Terry in 1746, was the first known poem written by an African American woman.
  • Clotel: or, The President’s Daughter, was the first novel published by an African American, in 1853. It was written by abolitionist and lecturer William Wells Brown.
  • Founded in 1984, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is the only touring African American rodeo in the world.

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