“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?” The sentiment expressed by Sojourner Truth and heard around the world resonated with many, not only because of the beautiful way it was articulated, but also because of how well it spoke on behalf of what was truly buried deep in the hearts of unjustly treated women. As second class citizens in American society, black women were the most disregarded demographic amidst the masses, and could arguably still be considered as such. For that very reason, advocates were sometimes necessary. Not just any advocates, though. Black women needed those women to stand up for them who cared, were unafraid, and unphased by the adversity that came with speaking up and standing against the wind; women who decided not to be well behaved, and consequently made history.
Now, I’d like you to consider something. How many African American women were in your history text books growing up? How many outlined the segments in your lesson plans as significant figures that would really contribute to your knowledge? For me, there weren’t many. Even in the large scale events that are consistently revisited every February, you have names like Martin Luther King Jr., or the likes of the famous Malcolm Little coined in his time as household name Malcolm X. It is very seldom that you hear of the women that fought through those prejudices, and then some; prejudices extended to both their race as well as their sex to be someone for their mothers’, their daughers, and granddaughters, to look upon with pride in their identity. So, allow me to introduce and, hopefully, reintroduce some of my favorite unsung heroes that have come to pass over the years for making some necessary noise.
Considering her powerful words starting us out here, you probably guessed she’d be up for discussion at some point. Sojourner Truth, forever emblazoned in history as not only a soldier in the cause, but a voice for the people she helped, is a fierce example of what is means to be bold in purpose. Sojourner Truth fought for both demographics that sat at the bottom of societies barrel. Slaying the 19th century, she worked to abolish slavery, escaping it herself with her infant daughter, then trailblazing the time period by taking the slave owner that illegally bought her son to court—and winning! Originally named Isabella Baumfree, Truth renamed herself, reclaiming her identity and continued to spearhead activism goals for the rest of the century. She riled up crowds with impassioned speeches, one of which captivated with the resounding words you heard in
We’re, actually, just getting started, and who better to continue the momentum than a personal FAV, Ms. Maya Angelou herself. After reading, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” a narrative detailing a rough, yet fiercely vulnerable story that gave so many curious little black girls a comrade to explore themselves honestly with, and maybe even harness the strength and courage oozing out of every crease in the book into their own, I can honestly say I felt more secure with the idea of claiming my own identity as I turned every page, and let the words ruminate in my mind. I had always felt like there were parts of my life that were a bit more radical than what is to be expected of a lady, but it was okay because beautiful things don’t always form in the same structural way, and Maya Angelou gave me that peace.
In addition to the other two women and all of the fighters along the way, If there were no Angela Davis, I strongly feel social progress would have gone even slower than the glacial pace it kept throughout the 20th century. Authoring many books that required out-of-the-box thinking within the time frame that they were published in, such as, “Women, Race and Class,” (1981) and “Women, Culture and Politics,” (1989) among many more tantalizing titles, Davis was also astonishingly acquitted by an all white jury, in a trial against her for gut wrenching charges, but not before she sat at the top of the FBI’s most wanted list and ran for the U.S. Vice presidency of course. What a woman! Angela Yvonne Davis was an advocate for prison reform, gender equity, and the rights of oppressed individuals. She earns a spot on this list easily, and in my impassioned heart forever!
Shirley Chisolm ran for president as the first African American and woman to gain a nomination for a major party, after already being the first African American woman to be elected to congress andchanged the trajectory of many dreams in a positive way. Also, women like performer Josphine Baker set France ablaze, and the American engineer and physician Mae Jemison became the first black woman in space. These are just a few more women who deserve recognition as monumental black women in history.
Michelle Obama. The first African American First Lady (meaning target for scrutiny) won me over with her recent book, Becoming. She told of the life, pressure, and tactful grace it took to arise from what may be referred to as an urban neighborhood in Chicago, to pivot her way to Princeton, Harvard Law, then on to several humanity efforts with non-profits, and FLOTUS projects during her husband’s presidency. She raised two admirable girls, while juggling it all under the greatest public microscope. After serving as first lady for two terms, she is who many would like to see run for the presidency next, and whom I would like to see serve the role in a way that only she could. She is an example I set my focus on when I awake in the morning to set the tone for efficiency, production, and an unyielding spirit for the right thing, always. She is and will forever be a bold woman in Black History, amidst the others that trailblazed before as well as with her.