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5 Influential Black Women Your History Textbooks Never Told You About

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Alabama chapter.

As a continuation of my previous article, I wanted to give a list of Black feminists with similar backgrounds. Their stories and contributions are often kept out of the history books, yet their accomplishments have heavily influenced the feminist movement. From authors to public health professionals, these women should receive the recognition they deserve. Unfortunately, their voices and stories are often silenced.


1. Toni Morrison 

Toni Morrison is a Pulitzer and Nobel Peace Prize winner known for her literary works, which address themes of racism and misogyny through the lens of Black female characters. In 1967, she became the first Black female senior editor for Random House’s fiction division and worked to bring Black literature to a mainstream audience. From there, she began to publish her own books, including “The Bluest Eye” and “Beloved”. Her writings provide readers a glimpse into the reality of systemic racism in Black communities across America. While Morrison, herself, does not associate her works with other feminist texts, they all seem to have a common theme of identifying gender inequality in society. Morrison continued writing until her death on August 5, 2019. Although it has been two years since her passing, several resolutions have been made to commemorate her legacy. In her hometown of Lorain, Ohio, her birthday, February 18, is designated as “Toni Morrison Day.”


2. Audre Lorde 

Audre Lorde described herself as “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” and through her creative talents and activism helped influence the philosophies behind Black feminism. Early in Lorde’s writing career, she focused on poetry in relation to her identity as a Black gay woman of the 1960s. Her book “Sister Outsider”, however, is her most notable contribution. It is a series of essays and speeches by Lorde spanning from 1976 to 1984, which address topics such as sexism, heterosexism, homophobia, classism, ageism and racism. She is known for pushing the ideals of intersectionality and demanding accountability from white feminists who often ignore the voices of women of color in a white patriarchal system. Not only did her work shine a light on systemic issues towards Black women, but through her own experiences navigating sexuality, she shines a light on LGBTQ+ issues as well. 


3. Sojourner Truth 

Born a slave in New York in 1797, Sojourner Truth was an integral voice in both the civil and women’s rights movements during the nineteenth century. As a traveling preacher, Truth met Frederick Douglas and began her advocacy for abolition. In 1850, she, along with the assistance of contemporary Olive Gilbert, published her autobiography “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.” Her work would gain national recognition, and she began to lecture across the country on issues such as temperance and abolition. Her most famous speech, “Ain’t I A Woman,” was given at a women’s conference in Akron, Ohio. Unlike suffragettes Stanton and Anthony, who prioritized women’s votes over black men, Truth believed that both should happen simultaneously. After the Civil War, her work earned her an invitation to meet Abraham Lincoln at the White House. Despite efforts by Southern Democrats to create drawbacks for newly Black freedmen’s rights, Truth would fight against segregation until her death in 1883.


4. Jocelyn Elders

Confirmed as the first Black Surgeon General in the Clinton administration, Jocelyn Elders faced conservative backlash for her sex-positive views of health education programs in public schools. Her work was heavily influenced by the rising teen pregnancy rates in her home state of Arkansas and the nation as a whole. Her work specialized in pediatric endocrinology, studies associated with disorders involving the endocrine gland. Because the endocrine gland is a vital part of sexual growth in children, her research was based primarily on sex education. In her 15-month term as Surgeon General, she advocated for free contraceptives and drug legalization. Unfortunately, in 1994, she was forced to resign after backlash for a comment on masturbation at a UN conference on AIDs. When asked whether masturbation should be promoted to young people instead of participating in sexual activities that can risk pregnancies and STDs, Elders stated, “I think that it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught”.


5. Shirley Chisholm

While Hillary Clinton was the first woman to earn the Democratic nominee for president in 2016, she is not the first woman to run. Not only was Shirley Chisholm the first woman to run for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, but she was the first Black candidate to try for a major party’s candidacy. As an elementary school teacher in New York, Chisholm joined many white-dominated political clubs. She joined The Unity Democratic Club and campaigned for its leader Thomas R. Jones when he ran for the New York Assembly. After his judicial appointment, Chisholm ran for and won his seat. She would go on to be the first Black woman elected into Congress. She worked on issues such as education, health care and reductions in military spending. In 1972, she would become the first Black woman to run for president. Although her campaign would be heavily underfunded and criticized by the Democratic Party, she ran to challenge a status quo that continues to be perpetuated onto modern female presidential candidates.

Hey guys!! I'm Lorin O'Rear and I am a freshman at the University of Alabama. My major is Secondary Language Arts Education with minors in the Blount Scholars Program and Theatre. Outside of writing, I love listening to music, keeping up with politics, spending time with my two dogs Max and Goose, and spending way too much time decorating my island in Animal Crossing.
Alabama Contributor