Black women are the infrastructure of the Black community. Black women are responsible for the Black Vote for presidential candidates, Black women are change agents. It is our belief that Black women will be the catalyst for much-needed change to our communities.
Shirley Anita Chisholm (née St. Hill; November 30, 1924 – January 1, 2005) was an American politician, educator, and author. In 1968, she became the first black woman elected to the United States Congress, and she represented New York’s 12th congressional district for seven terms from 1969 to 1983.
She set the standard for Black women in politics. We owe the success of Black women on politics to Ms. Chisholm and many who followed in her footsteps.
Phillis Wheatley took her first name from the ship that carried her from Africa in bondage at the age of seven. She was ‘lucky’ enough to be sold to the Wheatleys of Boston who seemed to have been liberal slave owners, if that is not too much of an oxymoron. They encouraged her, after teaching her literacy skills, to write poetry. This she took to with fervor and became the first African-American woman to have a book published in 1773.
Sojourner Truth was an American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, New York, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son in 1828, she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man. In 2009, Sojourner Truth was the FIRST African American woman to have a bust in the US Capitol in Washington DC. A historic milestone initiated by Dr. C. Delores Tucker and completed by Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq. and the National Congress of Black Women members and supporters.
In 1892, Sissieretta Jones became the first African-American woman to sing at Carnegie Hall. She was a versatile performer and her repertoire included grand to light opera through to the popular music of the day. The composer Dvorak was so impressed with her voice that he wrote a solo for her. She was known as ‘Black Patti’ after the Italian opera singer Adelina Patti. Finding many theater doors blocked because of her color Jones decided to do her own thing and started her own troupe of players. Although she toured successfully with this musical mélange (advertisements for the troupe announced they would be performing ‘coon comedy’ and ‘coon songs’) she retired in 1915.
It was all in hair and beauty for Madame CJ Walker. She was not only the first African-American female millionaire but the first recorded woman of any nation to achieve this status through her own work. Born in 1867 she was a landmark for her family – its first member to be born as a free person. Like many entrepreneurs, her ideas sprang from her own needs. She had the idea for a line of hair care products when her own began falling out.
Not the first Queen Bess in history, certainly, but the first woman so nicknamed to become an airline pilot. Bessie Coleman was working as a manicurist in a barber shop she was inspired by stories of pilots returned from the First World War to seek a career in aviation herself. She took French lessons in Chicago and in 1920 she found herself training in France (the French were a little more liberated in terms of gender and color than the US at that time). The year later she achieved her pilot’s license. In fact she was the first American of any race or gender to acquire an International Pilot’s License.
Although Josephine Baker became French in 1937, ten years earlier she became the first African-American woman to headline an international movie. The film was called La Sirène des Tropiques, which is easy enough to translate in to English. She was also the first African-American female artist to perform – at her own insistence – to an integrated concert hall in the US (in Las Vegas). Moreover, she was the first to become a major international artist and is such is looked upon as a founding figure by the likes of Tina Turner and Diana Ross.
A supporter of Civil Rights, she was the only woman to speak at the famous Martin Luther King Jr March On Washington in 1963. She died in 1975 and due to her war time activities as a spy for the French she was the first American woman of any color to be buried with full French military honors.
Mae Jemison became the first African American woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor on September 12, 1992. After her medical education and a brief general practice, Jemison served in the Peace Corps from 1985 to 1987, when she was selected by NASA to join the astronaut corps.
She resigned from NASA in 1993 to form a company researching the application of technology to daily life. She has appeared on television several times, including as an actress in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Jemison holds nine honorary doctorates in science, engineering, letters, and the humanities.
Born in 1898, Sarah Tanner Mossell Alexander (Sadie to her friends and how she would be known throughout life) she received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1921. Another first, the Pennsylvania Bar accepted her in 1927 and she was the first African-American women to do that as well. This was at a time when women in general, let alone women of color were still struggling for equal rights in what was very much considered a man’s world. She practiced law until 1982 and died .seven years later.