Angela Bowen (1936-2018) was a dancer and teacher, as well
as a prominent LGBT activist. She served on the board of the National Coalition
of Black Lesbians and Gays.
She started dancing at
the age of 14 and later co-founded the Bowen/Peters School of Dance in New
Haven, Connecticut. She came out as lesbian late in life, but always spoke out
against homophobia, racism and sexism. She is the subject of the 2016 documentary The Passionate Pursuits of Angela Bowen.
Florence Mills (1896-1927) was a famous dancer, comedian and
cabaret signer known as “The Queen of Happiness”. She had a considerable
influence on breaking racial barriers and improving the status of
The daughter of freed
slaves, she started performing at the age of six, and got her break in the
Broadway show Shuffle Along in 1921. She was a strong supporter of civil
rights, and her signature song, “I’m a Little Blackbird”, was a plea for racial
Lorraine Morton (1918-2018) served as the mayor of Evanston, a
town in Illinois, for sixteen years, from 1993 to 2009. She was the first
African American mayor of the town and drove the efforts to desegregate its
Before starting her
career in politics, she was an educator, and eventually became the principal of
Evanston’s Haven Middle School, a position held for twelve years. Today, the
town’s civic centre bears her name.
Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) was the first African-American
woman to publish a book of poetry. She achieved this in 1773 with her volume, Poems
on various Subjects, Religious and Moral.
She was born in West
Africa and sold into slavery in the United States at the age of seven. The
Wheatley family, that had bought her, taught her how to read and write, and she
wrote her first poem at the age of fourteen. Her work achieved great success
both in the US and overseas, and figures such as George Washington praised her writing.
Settle Putney (1916-2008)
was an educator and historian who served as one of the first African American members
of the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. After her military service, she
dedicated the rest of her life to documenting the achievements of African
Americans in the armed forces.
She was one
of 40 African-American women selected for the Women’s Army Corps in 1943, and
she soon earned the rank of Lieutenant. After the war, she obtained a PhD in
European History and started focusing on black servicemen and women, writing
three books a dozen articles about them.
Still Anderson (1848-1919)
was one of the first black physicians in the United States. She was a pioneer
in medicine in the African-American community in Philadelphia.
obtained her degree from Oberlin College, as the youngest student in the class,
and the only black one. She obtained an internship with the New England Hospital
for Women and Children, despite initial obstacles on account of her race, and
later opened her own dispensary. In addition, she was a social activist
campaigning for racial equality.
Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972) was a singer known as ‘The Queen of Gospel’, being one
of the most influential artists in the genre. She was also active in the civil
rights movement in the United States.
Her career spanned more than four decades,
during which time she recorded around 30 albums, 12 of which were certified
gold. She often sang before Martin Luther King’s speeches and helped raise
funds for the movement. In 1972 she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement
Julie Dash (b. 1952) is a film director and writer, part
of the L.A. Rebellion generation. Her 1991 film Daughters of the Dust was
the first production by an African American woman to have general theatrical
release in the United States.
of the Dust is included
in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for its cultural
significance, and has been considered one of the most significant films of the
last three decades. Dash has won the Black American Cinema Society Award and a
cinematography award at the Sundance Film Festival, among others.
Georgia Davis Powers (1923-2016) was a state
senator in Kentucky for 21 years. She was the first woman and the first person of
colour elected to the state Senate.
She was first elected in 1967, and became an advocate for the African
American community and the women and children of Kentucky. Additionally, she
served as chair of the Health and Welfare committee and the Labor and Industry
Ntozake Shange (1948-2018) was an
author whose work focused on black feminism. Her most famous play was also her
first, For Colored Girls Who Have
Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf, published in 1976.
Her first play, which dealt with the experiences of African American
women in a racist and sexist world, won numerous awards and was performed on
Broadway. She was also involved with the Black Arts Movement and the Women’s
Institute for Freedom of the Press.