10 Remarkable Black Women You Should Absolutely Know About
From Simone Biles to Ava DuVernay to Andrea Jenkins, Black women have played an indelible role in building and shaping America. And, lest some of our politicians forget, they are what makes this country great.
There are too many remarkable Black women to cover in a short post (listen to our podcast for all the latest). But here are 10 historical Black women figures—both living and departed—who inspire us.
Best known for: America’s first female, first African American, and first South Asian vice president, former US senator
Why she’s extraordinary: Kamala Harris’s remarkable ascent from California’s attorney general to US senator to America’s first Black, South Asian, female vice president started with a young girl in Berkeley, CA who was bused to an elementary school in a more prosperous neighborhood as part of the city’s desegregation program. A decade and a half later she graduated from Howard University with a degree in political science and economics. In her history-making vice presidential acceptance speech, Harris acknowledged the many women who paved the way for her. “I stand on their shoulders,” she said, adding, “While I might be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last.”
In her words: “What I want young women and girls to know is: You are powerful and your voice matters.”
Best known for: First African American congresswoman, first woman and African American to run for US president
Why she’s extraordinary: Speaking of women who paved the way… Shirley Chisholm is one of the 20th century’s trailblazers, making her mark as an “unbossed and unbought” feminist icon. In 1968, she became the first African American woman to win a seat in Congress. She ran for US president in 1972—the first woman and African American from a major political party to do so. After retiring from Congress in 1983, Chisholm co-founded the National Political Congress of Black Women to promote the participation of women of color in the educational, political, economic, and social arenas. A state park in her honor is expected to be completed in 2021.
In her words: “I want history to remember me…not as the first Black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a Black woman who…dared to be herself. I want to be remembered as a catalyst for change in America.”
Best known for: Black academic, activist, feminist icon
Why she’s extraordinary: For more than 50 years, Angela Davis has unapologetically fought against racism, sexism, the abuses of capitalism, and the prison-industrial complex. In 1998, she founded Critical Resistance, an organization working to abolish the prison-industrial complex. Criticized and even branded a “terrorist” for her revolutionary approach to justice, Davis has weathered decades of tumult and come out on the other end as one of the most lauded Black women in history.
In her words: “Racism cannot be separated from capitalism.”
Best known for: Producer, screenwriter, author
Why she’s extraordinary: Shonda Rhimes exudes courage, tenacity, and confidence. She makes success look easy, but she’ll be the first to tell you how much work it takes. Rhimes is the first Black woman to create and produce a top 10 network series (Grey’s Anatomy). Her production company, Shondaland, is behind a profusion of hit series, including Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, and she’s basically creating her own sub-genre on Netflix.
In her words: “I am not lucky. You know what I am? I am smart, I am talented, I take advantage of the opportunities that come my way and I work really, really hard. Don’t call me lucky. Call me a badass.”
Best known for: Abolitionist, Underground Railroad “conductor”
Why she’s extraordinary: Having endured brutal abuse and grueling work by slaveholders during childhood, Harriet Tubman committed her life to freeing others from bondage. She personally led dozens of enslaved Blacks to freedom via the “underground railroad,” an elaborate secret network of safe houses. And her actions ultimately helped hundreds of people escape slavery. Tubman was a cook and a nurse, a scout and a spy, a freedom fighter, and an incredibly courageous soul. The Biden administration has been working to accelerate the process of getting Tubman’s face on the $20 bill.