Influential Black women, past and present



As Black History month comes to a close, we are featuring these portraits of influential Black women who shaped, and continue to shape, countless industries and narratives. Whether you learned about these figures in school, through friends or family, or even if they are completely new to you, senior media studies major and Foghorn managing editor Haley Keizur’s graphics will help you put a face to a powerful name. 

SHIRLEY CHISHOLM — Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to Congress when she won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1968. In 1972, she ran for president, becoming the first woman to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination and the first Black person to seek a major political party’s presidential nomination in America. Chisholm’s presidential bid was a powerful challenge to the status quo — her campaign slogan was “unbought and unbossed.” Her trailblazing continues to inspire female and Black politicians today, such as California’s Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), who said Chisholm inspired her to run for political office. “She paved the way for candidates like Jesse Jackson, Carol Moseley Braun, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and now Kamala Harris, to follow in her footsteps,” Lee told Elle Magazine in 2019.

MISTY COPELAND — Misty Copeland was a ballet prodigy, having began her dance career at age 13. Copeland is the first Black woman to perform as a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, after being inspired to dance by an image of a Black ballerina on a magazine cover. “I hope to see more diversity on the stage when I’m 60 years old and watching in the audience. I hope to see the audience more diverse. I think that’s why people go to performances– they want to see something beautiful but they also want to be able to see themselves up there,” Copeland said in an interview for Time Magazine. Beyond ballet, Copeland has performed on Broadway, co-founded a fundraiser for COVID-19 relief, and will publish her second children’s book in November 2021, called “Black Ballerinas.”

IDA B. WELLS — Ida B. Wells was a determined journalist and civil rights activist who shaped American journalism with her investigative articles about lynchings in the South. Journalists today still revere Wells for her emphasis on facts and perspective while covering injustice. Wells called attention to ongoing domestic terrorism being committed against Black people in the South following emancipation, despite the larger newspapers of the time ridiculing her. In her book, “On Lynchings,” she wrote, “Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so.”

LUPITA NYONG’O —Named one of Forbes’ most powerful women in 2020, Oscar-Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o is an outspoken advocate for inclusive beauty standards, conservation, and womens’ rights. Her NYT Bestseller childrens’ book “Sulwe,” which follows a young girl who has the darkest skin complexion in her family, is being made into an animated musical series for Netflix. Nyong’o, who was born in Mexico and has Kenyan roots, starred in the film Black Panther. In regards to the film, she told the Hollywood Reporter, “We were creating an aspirational world where an African people are in charge of their own destiny. And that really appealed to me and had the little girl inside me jumping for joy. To just have African people, Black people, at the center of that narrative is so exciting.”

DAISY BATES — Daisy Bates was the president of the Arkansas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and helped oversee the integration of Little Rock Central High School, where the Little Rock Nine famously became some of the first Black students to attend an all-white institution in the United States. Bates and her husband, Christopher Bates, also ran the Arkansas State Press, and she was known for her determination. Gender and race historian Dr. Misti Lee Harper told Southern Living, “Daisy Bates sacrificed so much to make Arkansas and to make the country a more democratic, equitable place. She offers us a lesson in what it takes to maintain and protect democratic systems or to build them where they never existed in the first place. She shows us what is required to make sure that this country works for everyone.”


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