11 Black Women Activists Whose Names You Should KnowNov 29, 2021 10:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
When you think of strong Black female role models to look up to, your mind might automatically wander to Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, or Beyoncé. But these contemporary icons are far from the first influential Black women in history who made lasting change. Black women play an integral role in human rights movements in countries around the world, yet they don’t always receive the recognition they deserve for their contributions. Black women have steadily led the way for centuries, and not just in the United States. We’ve highlighted 11 Black female activists who are making their mark.
Alicia Garza was born in Los Angeles, California, to a white Jewish father and a Black mother. She received her bachelor's degree in anthropology and sociology from the University of California, San Diego, and her master's degree in ethnic studies from San Francisco State University. She is the former executive director for People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) for the San Francisco Bay Area and a co-founder of Black Lives Matter. She is also a principal at the Black Futures Lab and the strategy and partnerships director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Her work as a writer has appeared in publications such as The Guardian, Time, and Cosmopolitan, among others. She shares her thoughts on politics and pop culture on her podcast, Lady Don’t Take No.
Madame Cissé Hadja Mariama Sow
Sow was one of the 1,000 women nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. Born in Guinea’s Labé region, she works as an advocate for women and girls with various NGO women’s associations, youth organizations, and interreligious organizations, as well as on efforts to advance religious participation in national and international affairs with a focus on the Muslim community. Sow was the first president of the West African Women’s Association and acted as General Secretary of the Union of Revolutionary Women of Guinea for 12 years.
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. Johnson was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey. She is lauded by many as a pioneer in the trans community, though that vocabulary didn't exist during her lifetime. She used female pronouns, but also referred to herself as "gay, as a transvestite, or simply as a queen." An activist, self-identified drag queen, performer, and sex worker, Johnson was a key figure in the uprisings known as the Stonewall Riots, which ensued after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. Today's Pride celebrations commemorate this event. Along with Sylvia Rivera, Johnson founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR, to help advocate for, feed, house, and clothe young transgender people.
A self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Lorde was born in New York City to West Indian immigrant parents. She attended Catholic schools before graduating from Hunter High School and published her first poem in Seventeen magazine while still a student there. Lorde earned her BA from Hunter College and MLS from Columbia University. She was a librarian in the New York public schools throughout the 1960s.
The late Murungi was a feminist advocate artist and filmmaker who fostered collaborative creative community spaces to promote social justice and peace. She dedicated her life to improving LGBTQ+ and women’s rights in Kenya. The former Africa program manager at the organization OutRight Action International worked to draw the link between colonialism and homophobia across the African continent. Murungi was a founding member of Rutgers University's radical, multicultural, woman of color collective.
Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer rose from humble beginnings in the Mississippi Delta to become one of the most important, passionate, and powerful voices of the civil and voting rights movements and a leader in the efforts for greater economic opportunities for African Americans. She became a Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organizer and on August 31, 1962, led 17 volunteers to register to vote at the Indianola, Mississippi Courthouse.
Emtithal Mahmoud is a world champion slam poet and activist for the refugee cause. Born in Khartoum, Sudan immigrated to the United States of America as a child with her family. She uses her talents to shine a light on the experiences of millions of refugees worldwide. She won the 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam championship. In 2018, she became UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, and in this capacity, has traveled to refugee camps in Kenya, Greece, and Jordan, drawing wider attention to the situation of refugees. Mahmoud has spoken at several high-level events including the World Economic Forum in Davos, the UN General Assembly, and the WISE Summit in Doha.
Feminist blogger and humanitarian reporter from Cameroon, Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo-Wondieh is the founder of the NGO Women for a Change and a member of the civil society advisory group to the Generation Equality Forum. In her work as an activist and as a reporter, Mbondgulo-Wondieh gives voice to Cameroonian women's perspectives on the country's development. “We must not lose focus towards accelerating efforts like never before in increasing women’s voices, leadership, and agency. The Generation Equality Forum provides us all … an opportunity to ensure that we are the first generation to be serious about realizing an equal future for all,” she said in her remarks at the United Nations commemoration of International Women’s Day 2021.
Glanis Changachirere, Zimbabwean women’s rights activist, is the founding Director of the Institute for Young Women Development (IYWD) and the founding Coordinator of the African Women Leaders Forum. She is also a member of the Steering Committee of the Zimbabwean chapter of the UN Women-supported African Women Leaders Network.
Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells was an African American woman who was not afraid to confront the ugly truths that existed within American society. Born a slave and emancipated by the Emancipation Proclamation, she later began her career as a teacher and a writer and is remembered for fighting to end the horrific crime of lynchings in America.
Stacey Yvonne Abrams was born on December 9, 1973, in Madison, Wisconsin. Abrams is a political leader, voting rights activist, and New York Times bestselling author. After serving for eleven years in the Georgia House of Representatives, seven as Democratic Leader, in 2018, Abrams became the Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia, winning at the time more votes than any other Democrat in the state’s history. Abrams was the first black woman to become the gubernatorial nominee for a major party in the United States, and she was the first black woman and first Georgian to deliver a Response to the State of the Union.
Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies. She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content.
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