Black History Month, in both name and theory, signifies a time to celebrate the remarkable contributions of Black Americans in history. Still, many of the dialogues around Black History are centered around achievements of Black men and, sadly, Black women and all their magic are largely ignored.
Names like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X dominate our dinnertime discussions this time of year, and justifiably so, but what about the women beside them? Here are some of the most unsung Black heroes you probably never knew were on the frontline of the movement.
These are 7 often overlooked Black women activists.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN
Long before she became founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman was determined to be a voice for the voiceless. The first Black woman to practice law in the state of Mississippi, Edelman began her career at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund combating racial injustice in the segregated South. She later moved to Washington, DC where she worked as an organizer for the Poor People’s Campaign alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm. There, the seeds of Edelman’s commitment to advocacy and research for the needs of poor, minority and handicapped children were planted and the CDF was born.
Who knew the daughter of a Pullman porter would go on to graduate from Columbia Law and represent some of the most iconic figures of our time? Known for her signature cowboy hat and pink sunglasses, Florence “Flo” Kennedy was never afraid of a challenge. In fact, the feminist and social activist thrived on them. From founding the Feminist Party that nominated Shirley Chisholm, the first Black women to run for President of the United States in 1974, to representing Blank Panthers such as Assata Shakur and H Rap Brown.
Born free in Boston 1803, Maria Stewart was not only the first Black American woman to lecture to a public audience, she was the first American women to do it ever. A teacher, journalist, lecturer and activist, Stewart used all of her platforms to educate her audience on the great moral issues of her time (and ours) — women rights and the institution of slavery. As Stewart herself put it, when “knowledge [begins] to flow, the chains of slavery and ignorance [melt] like wax before flames.”
MARY CHURCH TERRELL
One of the first Black women to receive a college degree, Mary Church Terrell left Oberlin College in 1884 and in less than 20 years she would go on to become the first Black woman appointed to the District of Columbia Board of Education, the first president of the National Association for Colored Women and one of the founding members of the NAACP.
ANNA ARNOLD HEDGEMAN
Experiencing racism first hand as a teacher in Mississippi classroom, a young Anna Arnold Hedgeman would go on to commit the next 60 years of her life to being an unsung hero of the movement for civil rights. Hedge man was the first Black women to serve on a mayoral cabinet in the New work City from 1954 to 1958, and in 1963 she was also the ONLY women to serve on the executive committee for the infamous March on Washington. In protest of the lack of recognition of Black women in the march, she worked tirelessly to convince the committee to open the event to female speakers, opening the doors for Daisy Bates to speak that day at the Lincoln Memorial.
Commonly referred to as the “Mother of the Movement” by the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Septima Clark was an education pioneer and civil rights activist committed to combatting injustice through educating the masses. Her literacy and citizenship workshops were critical to the movement for Black voting rights and the larger Civil Rights Movement.
Just after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, Elaine Brown attended a meeting of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense’s Los Angeles chapter and her life was forever changed. Brown would later go on to lead the party as founder and Minister Of Defense in 1974, succeeding Huey Newton who had fled the country. She maintained control of the party until Newton’s return in 1977, and during her leadership developed some of the organizations most innovative public service programs including the free breakfast program, free legal and medical clinics and the Oakland Community Center.
MORE BLACK HERSTORY ON HELLO BEAUTIFUL: