Strong Black Women Past and Present

If I wish I’d had more role models in my life, I know my female, African-American friends had that same wish. Yet they had fewer role models to see in history or daily life. and, I hope, fulfill other young women’s need for role models. The women below are black women I have featured on my blog or women I’ve quoted. I featured and quoted them not because they were black but because they are strong women, both the world and my history books ignored. They are women I consider role models. Today I feature them because they are Black. A distinction that means they were doubly ignored and had to be stronger, more determined, and more courageous than many others. They are more than Strong Black Women. They are inspirations.

The First African-American Professional Nurse

Black and white photograph  portrait of  Mary Mahoney in her nurse's cap  and nurses whites with a fringed scarf tied in a bow at her collar.

Mary Mahoney (1845-1926) made history as the first African-American Professional Nurse , yet many do not know her name. A strong woman, Mahoney, became a nurse despite severe societal limitations placed on black and minority women. She braved discrimination and worked toward equality for black and minority nurses and women.

She means it doesn’t come off, Dana… The black. She means the devil with people who say you’re anything but what you are.”

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

She Refused to be Silenced

Photo portrait of Lucy Parsons has her sitting in profile with her face turned toward the camera. She wears a victorian striped dress and a medium brimmed hat with feathers.. She's one of many strong black women we should have learned about in school.

Lucy Parsons (1853-1942) is a woman of history in my ongoing examination of “Strong Women.” Parsons, the “Queen of Anarchy,” was a woman of contradictions. The Chicago police department considered her “more dangerous than 1000 rioters.” surveilled her, arrested her, and fined her over and over. Yet, she refused to be silenced.

I whimpered, biting my lip. ‘I’m here, I’m here, I’m here,’ I whispered. Because I was and there was no way out.”

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

She Lights the Way

Photograph portrait of Mary McLeod Bethune, one of many strong black women, she was a child of former slaves  and grew to be an educator and civil rights leader.

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) was an extraordinary woman, an educator, and a civil rights leader. A child of former slaves, she grew from poverty and ignorance into a woman who changed her world. Most of all, she lights the way even after death. 

Everything want to be loved. Us sing and dance and holler, just trying to be loved.”

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Zero Tolerance for Discrimination

Photograph of Stormé DeLaverie  in a tuxedo and her performance.

Her mother was a black servant in her white father’s household. Stormé DeLaverie (day-la-vee-ay) (1920-2014) was an entertainer, a bouncer, an activist, and a drag king with zero tolerance for discrimination.

Being brave isn’t the same as being okay.”

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, 

Nonviolent, She Made a Difference

Color photograph portrait of Dorothy Cotton smiling into the camera. She is one of many strong black women.

Dorothy Cotton (January 5, 1930–June 10, 2018) was born at the beginning of the depression. No one could have predicted the woman she became. Nonviolent, she made a difference in the U.S. civil rights movement and in the world.

Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The Maid Who Fought Back

Image of a protest sign that reads "no contract, no peace" alongside the title "Hattie Canty, The Maid Who Fought Back"

Hattie Canty (1934-2012) rose from an Alabama girl to a maid to an African-American labor activist. She was the maid who fought back, the maid who eventually ensured that Las Vegas workers in the hospitality business made a living wage.

For all those that have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question.” 

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Grateful for Strong Black Women

I’m grateful for Black History Month. Grateful to be given the extra push to learn more, to recognize the determination, strength, and the courage of these women, to see and help others see these strong Black women. For more Inspirational Black Women in History, go to PBS.  

Which Strong Black Women would you add to this list?

Image Credits

First Image by Leroy Skalstad from Pixabay

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