Many African-American men and women have marked American history with their stellar presence due to their contribution to society or noteworthy performance in different categories.
However, there are many African-American men and women whose contribution to society, especially in the lives of African-American people, has been lesser known than others.
When thinking about female African-American role models, a few names may quickly come to your mind, such as Rosa Parks, Katherine Johnson (a prominent mathematician for NASA), Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, Beyoncé, or other celebrities.
However, the African-American women who started to shape society with their contribution and qualities came centuries before the celebrated figures of modern days.
Reading about these women will make you realize how much potential is possessed by an individual to bring about a change. This article remembers 8 African-American women who changed history.
8 Black Women Who Made History
1. Bessie Coleman – Pioneer Aviatrix
There were only a handful of female pilots in 1918 and African-American female pilots were non-existent. However, Ms. Coleman did not let sexism and racism stop her from accomplishing her goal. She went to Paris with the financial support of Mr. Robert Abbott (African-American publisher of Chicago Defender), who encouraged her to chase her dream.
Ms. Coleman trained with some of the best pilots in Europe and earned her international pilot’s license by 1921. In the early 1920s, most active fliers performed at air shows, and Ms. Coleman also joined the air-show circuit after completing advanced training in aviation.
She was trained by some of the best pilots in Europe and was known for her daredevil tricks at air shows which earned her the nickname ‘Queen Bess’. She performed around the country for five years.
She suffered from several accidents during this time. For example, she was hospitalized in 1923 with a broken leg. However, the fatal accident took place in 1926 when she along with co-pilot, William D. Wills, was flying an airplane to survey the ground and prepare for the parachute jump that was supposed to take place the next day. Both pilots died on the spot when the airplane crashed due to mechanical failure.
Ms. Coleman dreamed of establishing a flight school for young African-American which remained unfulfilled due to her untimely demise in 1926. However, she inspired countless young men and women (irrespective of race) around the world to pursue their dream of flying an airplane.
2. Mary Kenner – Inventor
Mary Kenner is known for her contribution to the world of feminine care, as she invented the sanitary belt. Her invention attracted several manufacturing companies of feminine hygiene products; however, they did not want to partner up with Ms. Kenner because of her race.
She even failed to patent the ‘sanitary belt’ until 30 years after its creation. However, Ms. Kenner had the patent for other items invented by her, such as bathroom tissue holders, a carrier attachment on walkers for disabled people, and a wall-mounted back-washer for showers.
3. Isabel de Olvera – Explorer, Early 1600s
Isabel de Olvera was a free woman of mixed racial heritage. She lived between the 16th and 17th centuries and was regarded as a free person as her mother was neither married nor enslaved.
She joined Juan Guerra de Resa’s expedition to New Mexico in 1600 as a servant to a Spanish woman. Before joining this expedition, she wrote a deposition to the governor of Querétaro, Mexico.
She was afraid to be exploited by the men encountered on her journey to New Mexico and appealed to the mayor to provide her with the written permission that declared her to be a free woman.
This action etched her name in history, as she was the first woman (irrespective of race) to take this step. She ended this declaration by writing: “I demand justice”.
4. Mary Ellen Pleasant – Entrepreneur and Activist
Mary Ellen Pleasant is remembered as the “Mother of Civil Rights in California” and as a successful entrepreneur of the late 18th century. She came to power (and money) at the later stage of her life.
- She learned how to run a business when working under a shopkeeper where she also learned about the abolitionist movement.
- She moved to San Francisco after her husband, who was a free man and wealthy African-American landowner, died and worked as a cook and servant for wealthy families.
- She started running a boarding house after saving up money.
- She made her fortune by investing in stocks, real estate, and different types of businesses.
She was estimated to be worth $30 million dollars at her peak. Thus, she was one of the major entrepreneurs of San Francisco. She publicly supported the civil rights of African-Americans.
She is known in the African-American community for her philanthropy, as she spent her fortune fighting for the wrongfully accused African-Americans in the court of law.
5. Mae Jemison – Travelled in Space
Mae Jemison received her doctorate degree in medicine from Cornell University and her bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University.
She was the first African-American woman to travel into outer space on September 12, 1992, on Mission STS-47 of NASA. She served as a Science Mission Specialist in the Space Lab.
The experiments, conducted by her in the Space lab on this mission, added to fundamental knowledge about human exposure to a weightless environment and to the behavior of crystals and fluids.
6. Rosa Parks – Refused to Give-up Her Seat
Rosa Parks challenged the racial violence and the prejudiced systems that protected its perpetrators. Her name was etched in history followed by her protest when she was asked to move to the back of a bus, as the front seats were reserved for ‘white’ people.
This protest took place 10 months after the arrest of Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old girl from Alabama, who violated an ordinance that required segregation on the city buses. Ms. Parks was a member of the Montgomery Chapter and her protest was echoed by thousands.
It resulted in a boycott that lasted for 381 days and transformed civil rights activism into a national movement.
7. Alice Dunnigan – White House Correspondent
Alice Dunnigan was the first African-American correspondent to cover the White House. However, her questions were ignored for two years until John F. Kennedy became the President.
She penned her first column at 13 years of age. She graduated from Kentucky State University and taught for 18 years before moving to Washington. She became the chief of Associated Negro Press in 1947.
8. Ruby Bridges – Face of Integration
Ruby Bridges started her activism when she was 6 years old. With her protest, she racially integrated the William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana, which was an all-white elementary school.
There are many African-Americans whose contributions have shaped the life of African-Americans and other races living in the USA.
Their work has influenced many people around the world. Therefore, it is important to remember these men and women along with their contribution to society.
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