We received so much positive feedback from our readers after the publication of our recent article titled, 30 Black Female Leaders You Should Know About, we decided to take it a step further. After reading through your comments for suggestions on other black female leaders, we deducted the following USER LIST. This time some of the 30 black female leaders we’ve profiled are far more controversial but equally as inspirational. Take a look!
1. Mae Jemison
Mae Jemison has gone farther than most people, let alone most black women. Jemison became the first African American astronaut in space when in 1992 NASA sent her up-up-and-away on the Space Shuttle Endeavor. She has also been a medical doctor and a member of the Peace Corps in Liberia and Sierra Leone. What you may not know about Mae Jemison is that she entered Stanford University at the tender of age of 16.
2. Wangari Maathai
This Kenyan-born conservationist, environmental activist, and former assistant minister of environment and natural resources in her home country, was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize (1994). She attended colleges in Germany, USA (University of Pittsburgh) and Kenya. Her work in environmental protection has made her a pioneer in the effort to protect the planet from the impact of a changing climate.
3. Barbara Jordan
Barbara Jordan was a political force to be reckoned with, serving the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas Senate, and the US House of Representatives during her long and successful career in American politics. She was the first black Texas State senator since 1883 when she won in 1966, and the first black woman to ever win a senate seat in Texas. In 1972, Jordan became the first black woman from a southern state to enter the US House of Representatives, and was a popular, trusted colleague of many power players of that era.
4. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
Winnie Mandela is a controversial example of a black female leader simply because of her tumultuous past with the South African legal system and several allegations made against her during her history in the spotlight. However it is still important to recognize Ms. Madikizela-Mandela because, regardless of her controversial past, she was intimately involved in the struggle to end one of modern history’s most deplorable policies, South African Apartheid.
5. Betty Shabazz
Also known as Betty X, Shabazz was the wife of former Nation of Islam pioneer, Malcolm X. While Betty Shabazz is a controversial figure in American history, she also served in a range of advisory and volunteer roles following the assassination of her husband, not to mention raising 6 children as a single mother.
6. Mary Seacole
Mary Seacole was a nurse and hero of the Crimean War. Born in Jamaica, she overcame several barriers in practicing nursing after the war, most of which were related to racial discrimination. Seacole eventually traveled to Turkey to join the team of Florence Nightingale. In late years she would be hailed for her bravery and dedication to the soldiers and nations she served to assist.
7. Madam Tinubu
Madam Tinubu was a Nigerian born political player who campaigned against the influence of the British Empire in her home nation and for the elimination of slavery. While once a slaver trader herself, Madam Tinubu eventually opposed all forms of slavery and used her influence to try to eliminate it.
8. Henrietta Lacks
Henrietta Lacks provided science with some of its most marvelous advancements simply by having had her cancerous cells sampled by a scientist in 1951. That scientist from Johns Hopkins University used them after she developed cervical cancer aged 30 to develop a series of immune cells in a culture. This development was the first of its kind and Henrietta’s cells were later sent to space for testing. They were also used to help develop the polio vaccine.
9. Queen Amina of Zaria
A 14th century Queen of what is now Nigeria, Amina is remembered for her role as one of the first militarily-active Queens. She participated in a number of battles and was renowned for her strategy and innovation.
10. Florence Joyner
Also known as Flo-Jo, Florence Joyner was a record-setting, multiple Olympic gold medalist and hero to many a small girl. She is attributed with increasing the profile of track and field for girls. Joyner died suddenly in 1998 aged 38 following an epileptic seizure.
11. Frances Cress Welsing
Francis Cress Welsing is an academic, psychiatrist and author. She is known for her controversial work about white supremacy and racial suppression theories. Her most recognized text is called ‘The Isis Papers.’
12. Angela Davis
Angela Davis is by far one of the most controversial black female leaders to have graced the pages of modern American history books. In the 60s she was involved heavily in the civil and woman’s rights movements. As a self-confirmed socialist, she was once a member of the Communist Party of the United States, spending extended periods of time in Cuba and remaining actively involved in the international socialist movement. However, Davis eventually became more moderate in her political affiliation and is now an active academic whose focus remains on feminist and Afro-American studies.
13. Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison is one of America’s most critically acclaimed authors, having won the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her characters are known for their particular ‘blackness.’ This became relevant in 1998 with her most remarkable characterization – speaking in reference to the impeachment of former president Bill Clinton she so famously referred to him as, “Our first Black president” because of particular personality and contextual traits he embodied.
14. Nina Simone
Almost everybody should know one of her classic hits because Nina Simone produced over 40 studio albums during her long, successful career as a recording artist. Born in 1933, Simone went on to become a songwriter, pianist, vocalist, singer and civil rights campaigner, honored and admired across the world for pioneering much of what we listen to today.
15. Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Jackie Joyner-Kersee was an American track athlete, recognized as one of this country’s greatest female athletes and sporting icons. In 1988 she launched the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation to improve the lives of those in need in the St. Louis area.
16. Helene D Gayle
Dr. Helene Gayle is currently the CEO of CARE USA, one of the country’s leading humanitarian organizations. Dr, Gayle also chairs President Obama‘s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS as well as being involved in a number of other important humanitarian groups.
17. Margaret Ekpo
Like so many of the pioneering civil rights leaders we know in the United States, Margaret Ekpo was a leader in her own time and today. Although she passed away in 2006 at the age of 92, Ekpo is remembered for pushing for racial unity through the woman’s rights movement in Nigeria.
18. Cynthia McKinney
Cynthia McKinney is a well-known former House representative. A former Democrat, she later switched to the Green Party and was that party’s presidential candidate in 2008. McKinney has been a controversial political figure during her time in the spotlight, especially in regard to her belief of certain 09/11 theories. Yet McKinney has focused much of her attention on practical, grass roots political efforts. She was a strong advocate for victims rights during the post-Hurricane Katrina disaster.
19. June Jordan
June Jordan was a Jamaican-born, American poet, author, educator and activist. She is famous for her work in literature, covering topics relating to race, gender and equality. The June Jordan School For Equity in California is named in her honor.
20. Sheila Johnson
Sheila Johnson is a successful American entrepreneur, television and film producer and business woman. She co-founded BET but sold it in 1999 to Viacom. Sheila Johnson is also an owner and/or partner of three sporting teams, Washington Capitals (NHL), the Washington Wizards (NBA), and the Washington Mystics (WNBA).
21. Kathleen Cleaver
Kathleen Cleaver was a former Black Panther member turned Yale-educated lawyer and academic in law.
22. Harriet Washington
Harriet Washington is a controversial yet acclaimed author in the field of medical ethics. She is best known for writing the book, ‘Medical Apartheid’ in which she makes an historical and cultural critique of the medical situation facing African Americans.
23. Miriam Makeba, ‘Mama Afrika’
Miriam Makeba was a South African singer and civil rights activists, known for denouncing Apartheid on the world stage and campaigning abroad for the end of that government policy. Along with releasing several dozen albums, Mama Afrika appeared on television and across the world, holding at one time 9 passports as an honorary citizen in exile. She died in 2008, aged 76.
24. Michelle Obama
As the wife of our current president, Michelle Obama is undeniably the most recognized current figurehead of the black female community. Both nationally and abroad, she is hailed for her credibility, strong presence and intellect. Michelle is currently undertaking a range of programs, the most notable of which are the support of war widows and the battle against childhood obesity. However, irrespective of her unofficial role as the First Lady, she is also an accomplished lawyer, political campaigner and mother of 2 (and, as per the Vogue shot above, a style icon in the making).
25. Carol Moseley Braun
Carol Moseley Braun is, as of 2010, the only black female to have ever served in the US Senate. Braun was also the Ambassador to New Zealand from 1999 to 2001.
26. Patricia Roberts Harris
A Howard University graduate, Patricia Roberts Harris went on to become the first African American woman to serve as an ambassador. She held a number of Cabinet positions in the administration of Jimmy Carter including Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.
27. Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald has had our skin in goosebumps for generations with her powerful lyrics and spectacular voice. She was the first African American woman to win a Grammy Award, eventually winning 14 as well as a range of other accolades including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She passed away in 1996 at the age of 79.
28. Cora Mae Brown
Cora Mae Brown is an example of the less known, grassroots heroes of American social activism. Born in 1914, she was a social worker, policewoman, and lawyer, and eventually became the first black woman to be elected to a US state’s legislature, winning a seat in the Michigan State Senate in 1952. Cora Mae Brown was also involved actively in the National Council of Negro Women, the NAACP and the YWCA.
29. Yvonne Braithwaite Burke
Yvonne Braithwaite Burke is a woman of many firsts in her home state of California. In 1966 she became the first black woman elected to California legislature, in 1972 the first black woman elected to California Congress and in 1993 the first black woman to serve as Chair of the Los Angeles County Supervisors.
30. Our Mothers
By far the most sought after addition to our last list of strong black woman to know about were our mothers. They’re the women that gave you your first breath, helped support you, provided you the clothes on your back, a roof over your head and the nurturing that you needed to make it day-by-day in this harsh world. Even if she isn’t in your life any longer, the simple act of having conceived you and nurtured you during those painful 9 months, is something to admire and never forget. So go moms!