Angela Davis – Activist, Author & Educator: Davis became an icon of resistance during the ‘70s when her alleged involvement in a murder involving controversial figures landed her on America’s Most Wanted list. Her time in prison while on trial sparked an international movement to “Free Angela” and brought needed attention to prisoners’ rights.
Fannie Lou Hamer – Civil Rights Pioneer: Despite facing violence from whites including beatings and bullets, Hamer persevered in her quest to bring voting equality and justice to African-Americans living in the Jim Crow south. In 1964, she brought the plight of blacks living in her native Mississippi to the national spotlight during the Democratic National Convention.
Ida B. Wells – Journalist & Activist: Born to slaves, Wells spent her life leading anti-lynching crusades and fighting for social equality for African-Americans. Using her skills as a writer and orator, she traveled as far as the UK during her career, which she began in the 1890s.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela – South African Leader: She is a controversial figure now, but while her former husband Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for fighting apartheid, Winnie was the leader of the struggle in the outer world. She was placed in prison and internal exile for her activities to help her people from 1962-1990.
Coretta Scott King – Activist: The wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a civil rights pioneer in her own right. King took an active part in her husband’s political campaigns, and led the the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change as president and CEO.
Shirley Chisholm – Congresswoman: Chisholm became the first black female member of Congress in 1969. She used her long career to fight for improved education and social opportunities for all, and became the first black woman to run for president in 1972.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf – President of Liberia: In 2005, Johnson-Sirleaf was elected the first female head of state in Africa. Before this historic win, she had been forced into exile twice for speaking out against injustice in her country. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2011 for unifying her country after a 14-year civil war.
Michelle Obama – First Lady of the United States: Michelle Obama grew up on Chicago’s South Side and used her strength, intelligence and determination to propel herself to the White House. She is often admired for her strong arms, but as first lady it is her strong heart that supports our nation through her various causes, such as her initiative to help military families.
Leymah Gbowee – Women’s Rights Activist: Gbowee received the 2011 Nobel Prize for Peace for her work as the director of the Women Peace and Security Network Africa in her native Ghana. Throughout her entire career, Gbowee has worked to empower women as peacebuilders, encouraging female leadership on the national and international levels.
Sojourner Truth – Abolitionist & Women’s Rights Activist: Truth escaped to freedom in 1826 with her infant daughter. She used the rest of her life to preach about the rights of women and African-Americans through her talent for fiery oratory. Her famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” was the first in history to portray black and women’s issues as united.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Human Rights Activist, Feminist & Author: Ali fled to the Netherlands and became a Dutch citizen in 1992 in order to escape a forced marriage. She went on to serve in the Dutch Parliament while working to help Muslim and battered women among many humanitarian causes — for which she has won numerous awards. Ali now lives in the U.S. promoting conflict resolution.
Dorothy Height – Civil & Women’s Rights Activist: During her long life, Height crusaded for the cause of black women’s rights and other humanitarian issues. She is noted for inspiring young people to join her fight against illiteracy and other social issue in the ‘90s.
Wangari Muta Maathai – Environmental Activist: Maathai won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for leading a green revolution in Africa. The first woman from Central or Eastern Africa to earn a PhD, Maathai led initiatives to plant millions of trees in programs that also created jobs of impoverished women. Maathai’s activism also extended to fighting political corruption.
- of 16
The Iron Lady has nothing on these brave black women. While Meryl Streep is making headlines for her new role in this biopic about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, women of African descent have a long history of expressing the steely resolve that made her famous.
Black female leaders have led slaves to freedom and faced bullets in the pursuit of justice, long exhibiting the tough qualities that made Margaret Thatcher great. As the world celebrates Thatcher with the release of the Iron Lady movie, let us also remember these “iron ladies” of African descent. Their powerful resolve and quiet austerity have significantly advanced the black community throughout our history.