Black History Month is a celebration to remember and honor those who have made a difference in our world. Black women especially have pushed through barriers, fought for equality, followed their dreams and accomplished a great deal that can make all women proud.
Here are just a few of the amazing women, yet ones we may not often hear about, who have lived among us:
“You lose a lot of time hating people.”
Known as an extremely talented performer, some concert halls would still not allow Anderson to perform. In 1939, when the Daughters of American Revolution would not allow her to sing in Washington’s Constitution Hall, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from DAR in response. Anderson went on to be the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York; she received a standing ovation. She performed concerts until the age of 68.
She received numerous awards throughout her life, including NAACP’s Spingarn Medal, presented by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1939. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, and President Jimmy Carter honored her with the congressional gold medal in 1977. In 1991, Anderson received the lifetime achievement Grammy award.
Mary McLeod Bethune
“From the first, I made my learning, what little it was, useful every way I could.”
Growing up working in the cotton fields, Bethune was one of 17 children raised in South Carolina by her parents, former slaves. Bethune went on to found Bethune-Cookman College, in Daytona, Florida in 1904; she served as president from 1904 to 1942, and 1946 to 1947. The school opened with six students, including her son, with no pencils or equipment, and crates were used as desks.
She went on to found the National Council of Negro Women in 1932, holding the office of president, and by 1955 membership was at 800,000. She also served as president of the National Association of Colored Women, and served as a consultant to the U.S. Secretary of War during WWII for selection of the first female officer candidates. President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her director of Minority Affairs in the National Youth Administration from 1936 to 1944. She was honored with countless awards during her lifetime.
“The things we truly love stay with us always, locked in our hearts as long as life remains.”
Baker was an entertainer and international star due to her colorful performances in daring costumes along with her dramatic flair while living in Paris. Born in St. Louis, Missouri she spent many years overseas and returned to the States in 1936 to a poor reception due to skin color. She moved back to Paris, became a citizen and during WWII, joined the French resistance when Hitler’s troops occupied France. She earned the Medal of Honor.
When she returned to the U.S. in 1951, she received rave reviews and fought against racism, as she would not perform anywhere African Americans were not allowed entry. She is still remembered for entertaining many.
“The man who never makes a mistake always takes orders from one who does. No man or women who tries to pursue an ideal in his or her own way is without enemies.”
Bates was an American civil rights leader, journalist, publisher and author. She and her husband owned a newspaper in Arkansas, which covered violations of the Supreme Court’s desegregation rulings. The couple advised nine students (known as the Little Rock Nine) in 1957 when they were denied enrollment into Little Rock Central High School. It created confrontation with the then-Governor, who brought in the National Guard to block the enrollment.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower stepped in and ensured the Supreme Court’s ruling was upheld. But the controversy resulted in the newspaper folding, and the couple moved from the state. They eventually found themselves in D.C., where Bates worked for the Democratic National Committee and served in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration on anti-poverty programs.
Patricia Roberts Harris
“Senator, I am one of them. You do not seem to understand who I am. I am a black woman, the daughter of a dining-car worker. If my life has any meaning at all, it is that those who start out as outcasts wind up as being part of the system.”
Raised in Chicago, Harris received many “firsts” during her lifetime. When President Lyndon Johnson appointed her as ambassador to Luxembourg in 1964, she was the first black woman to hold an ambassador position. She was also the first black female cabinet member when in 1977 she was appointed to President Jimmy Carter’s cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Carter later in 1979 appointed her to the largest cabinet post, Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). Harris was actually the first African American, and only woman to serve in three cabinet level positions.
She was the first African American to serve in the United Nations; first African American female on major corporate boards. When, in 1972, she was elected permanent chairperson of the Democratic National Convention, she was the first African American female to chair a national political party committee. She was the first African American female to participate in a presidential nomination; and the first female to serve as dean of a law school (Howard University) in 1969. And, the list of awards and accolades goes on …
Dr. Mae C. Jemison
“Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.”
Born in Alabama and raised in Chicago, Jemison became the first female African American astronaut; she was aboard space shuttle Endeavour as the science specialist.
Jemison has a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering and Bachelor of Arts in African American studies from Stanford, and a Doctor of Medicine degree from Cornell University. She has traveled to Cuba, Kenya and Thailand providing medical care to residents. She has also served in the Peace Corps as a medical officer, and practiced as a general practitioner in California.
In 1987, she applied to NASA and in 1992, she was blasting into space. The eight-day, 127 orbits around earth, 190-hour and 30-minute mission was a joint venture between the U.S. and Japan.
Mary Church Terrell
“I cannot help wondering sometimes what I might have become and might have done if I had lived in a country which had not circumscribed and handicapped me on account of my race, but had allowed me to reach any height I was able to attain.”
A woman’s right activist, Terrell was the first president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), which addressed issues such as lynching and suffrage and more. Graduating from Oberlin College in 1884, she was among the first of African American women to obtain a degree in higher education.
She was also involved in international movements: Terrell represented black women on the American delegation to the International Congress of Women in Berlin — she was the only woman to give her speech in fluent English, German and French. She also had speaking engagements in Zurich and London. She wanted equality for African American women no matter where they found residence.
Maggie Lena Walker
“If our women want to avoid the traps and snares of life, they must band themselves together, organize, acknowledge leadership … and work in business for themselves.”
Walker, born in Richmond, Virginia, was active from a young age as a foe of racism. At 14, she participated in the Grand United Order of St. Luke, an insurance society ensuring adequate health care and burial arrangements for its African American members.
In 1903, she was instrumental in the opening of St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, whose goal was to provide loans to the community, and she became the first female bank president in the country. By 1920, the bank had helped with purchases of 600 homes; by 1929 the bank had merged with several others and Walker became chairperson of the board. Walker also started the St. Luke Educational Fund to aid black children to fund their educational needs.
And, rumor has it, that at the end of her life, one of her last quotes was, “Have faith, have courage and carry on.