Unsung Heroes: Highlighting Influential African American Females
Women have made numerous contributions to society throughout history. Unfortunately, due to the misogynistic beliefs that were commonly held in the past, they have largely gone unrecognized. Whether in politics, education, civil rights advocacy or entrepreneurship, women have worked
Whether in politics, education, civil rights advocacy or entrepreneurship, women have worked behind the scenes to make powerful and much-needed changes. This black history month, it is important that we highlight a few African American women and the impact they have made in various sectors of society.
Madam C.J. Walker
America’s economy is in part built on a foundation of individuals whose entrepreneurial spirit created numerous opportunities for themselves and others. Madam C.J. Walker is a prime example of this at work. Afflicted with hair loss, severe dandruff, scalp ailments among other things, she used the knowledge she had gained from her time as a commission agent for Annie Turnbo Malone and her brothers, who were barbers, to develop her own haircare product line aimed at helping African-American women with similar issues.
She later established the Lelia College to train hair specialist and employed thousands of women to handle various aspects of the business. In later years it expanded to supply products to the Caribbean and other territories and Madam Walker began to teach black women the traits to become successful entrepreneurs. She made generous donations to organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored and various HBCUs.
Today, she is lauded as the first self-made female millionaire in America. An accolade she earned for using her knowledge of business to not only elevate her own circumstances but to inspire African American women to use their skills to establish their independence.
The civil rights movement was an important event in American history and it is a topic often discussed. However, an aspect that is commonly overlooked is the role women played in making it successful. One such woman was Ella Baker. She was a revolutionary who focused on adolescents. She served as the chief mentor of the younger members of the civil rights revolution and with her student apprentices, she helped found SNCC, the student nonviolent coordinating committee. Her role in the movement is often lost as it primarily focused on ministers and other religious leaders and left little room for women in leadership positions. However, aid from her and SNCC helped the civil rights movement to widen its base and gain traction. She is thought of as one of the most significant black leaders of the 1900s and one of the most important women.
Political positions of power in America are commonly filled by men. However, women like Shirley Chisholm challenged the status quo and became influential politicians. She was the first African-American female elected to Congress in 1969 from her district in New York City, where she served for fourteen years.
Chisholm attended Columbia University where she earned a master’s degree in elementary education, which she later parlayed into a position as a consultant at the New York City Bureau of Child Welfare. Consequently, she used her experience to propel her into the political field where she worked as a state legislator before moving on to the US House of Representatives. She was involved in numerous organizations aimed at improving the power of blacks in politics, including the Congressional Black Caucus. In 1972, she vied for the position of president by entering the Democratic primary. She is the first black candidate to attempt to gain a major party nomination, paving the way for others such as Barack Obama.