Women’s History Month: Women of color whose names you should know

March 14, 2019

Part One of Two:

These leaders — Black, Latina, Asian, Arab, Native American — in varied fields, broke both gender and racial barriers as they made history. Here is a by-no-means-comprehensive primer recognizing 36 women of color, past and present:

Peggy Alexander and Diane Nash

Peggy Alexander and Diane Nash participated at lunch counter sit-ins during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and were some of the first African Americans served lunch at a previously all-white counter, along with Matthew Walker and Stanley Hemphill.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was a Pulitzer prize-nominated poet and civil rights activist. Her first autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings received critical acclaim for its depiction of racism and sexual assault. A leader in black feminism, Angelou worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

Ella Baker

Ella Baker was a civil rights activist who founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a prominent organization in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement that united its young leaders. Baker worked with other leaders, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thurgood Marshall.

Monifa Bandele

Monifa Bandele works as an advocate for food justice at MomsRising, a grassroots organization aimed at empowering mothers politically and educating people on issues that women and mothers face.

Grace Lee Boggs

Grace Lee Boggs, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, was a prominent writer and activist who worked closely with black Marxist and black power leaders like Malcolm X and her husband James Boggs during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

Charlotte Hawkins Brown

Charlotte Hawkins Brown was born next door to a plantation in Henderson, N.C., but moved to Cambridge, Mass., as a young girl. Her mother made sure that Brown received a good education, and a chance encounter with Alice Freeman Palmer, president of Wellesley College, resulted in her having an influential mentor. Brown eventually returned to North Carolina to open the innovative Palmer Memorial Institute, a prep school for African American children. More than 1,000 students graduated from the Institute in Brown’s 50-year presidency. She also spoke out against Jim Crow laws.

Melanie Campbell

Melanie Campbell is the president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, which seeks to increase black voter participation.

Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman elected to U.S. Congress in 1968, and later became the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination for president as a Democrat.

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox, star of Orange Is The New Black, became the first transgender actress to play a transgender women on a network-TV series regular on CBS’ Doubt. “I think that talking about diversity, talking about race, talking about gender is important,” she said.

Angela Davis

Born in Birmingham, Ala., Angela Davis rose to prominence during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement due to her involvement with the Communist party. She was targeted by the FBI, making its 10 Most Wanted List, and later imprisoned but then acquitted on murder and kidnapping charges in association with a courtroom attack during the trial of the Soledad Brothers, three African American inmates charged with the murder of a white prison guard. She has been a professor and author and today focuses on battling the “industrial prison complex” in the U.S. as well as the role of black women and the rise of intersectionality in feminism.

Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay was the first black woman nominated for a Golden Globe for best director for her movie Selma. Her documentary 13th was nominated for an Oscar this year. She’s also the first woman of color to direct a live-action film with a budget exceeding $100 million (A Wrinkle In Time).

Alicia Garza

Alicia Garza, along with Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, co-founded the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin murder trial.

Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is a writer whose collection of essays in Bad Feminist explores what the word “feminist” has come to mean today and how attitudes around the term have shaped women’s progress.

(Continued next week)

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