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5 Black Women Who Changed History As We Know It

Artwork by: Angelica Milash


Black History Month: February 2017

An oppressed gender and an oppressed race – black women have faced a vast amount more prejudice and challenges than the average Caucasian female or the average black male.

I would be here for days that would presumably turn into years if I were to write an exhaustive list on every single coloured woman who has helped pave the pathway for females of colour into modern day society. For the sake of time and your attention span, I am going to focus on 5 of the most influential and inspiring women of colour who deserve to be recognized during this month of black history.

1. Bessie Coleman (1892-1926)

Being influential does not necessarily mean always dedicating your life to civil rights. Bessie Coleman, 1 of 13 children, dedicated herself to becoming the first black women to earn a pilot’s licence. She was denied entry to American programs, so she taught herself French and moved to France. Within 7 months of living there, Bessie obtained her pilot’s licence from the Caudron Brothers’ School of Aviation. Gender and racial discrimination were shoved in Bessie’s face but she broke down those barriers and became the first coloured woman to earn her licence.

2. Ella Baker (1903-1986)

Influenced by her grandmother’s stories of a youth spent enduring slavery, Ella Baker was inspired by her grandmother’s hardships to make a difference for her future and for the future of other women of colour. Ella studied at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, graduating in 1927 as class valedictorian. She then moved to New York City to begin her journey of fighting for civil rights. Ella could be called the most influential woman to influence the Civil Rights Movement.

3. Rosa Parks (1913-2005)

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks followed in Ella Baker’s footsteps and made waves in the movements of civil rights. Parks’ notorious refusal to move seats on a bus is a moment often recalled in history. She stood up for herself against bus driver James F. Blake when he asked her to move further back. In her autobiography, My Story, Parks said, “People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

4. Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

Marguerite Annie Johnson, a writer and public speaker, is a personal favourite of mine. Maya’s writing and public speaking have inspired both females and especially females of colour to overcome gender and race discrimination. Active in the Civil Rights Movement, Maya worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. She passed away in 2014, but her memory, impact and influence lives on.

5. Oprah Winfrey (1954-Present)

Oprah Gail Winfrey. What is there to say that has not already been said? Oprah is an American talk show host, actress, producer and, above all, a woman of colour who was born into poverty and made her way to become the first (and only) multi-billionaire woman of colour. She is arguably the most powerful and influential woman in contemporary society.

As I’ve grown older, the recognition given to February as Black History Month has dwindled. In high school, there were posters and announcements and assemblies and performances to remind us of the importance of this history, but now that I’ve found myself in my fourth year of university, the awareness and appreciation for the women who have helped shaped society today is not close to what it should be. As women, we need to support one another and give credit, appreciation and thanks where it is due. We must recognize the women mentioned above, all the rest that came before, and those who are now fighting for our equality.


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