7 Iconic Black Women You Need to Know

In honor of Black History Month, here’s a list of seven important black women that are very slept on. I learned about a few of these women when I took an African American Studies class, and to say that I was impressed is an understatement. These wonderful women range from powerful journalists to talented actresses, showing that black women can excel in any field.


Ethel Payne

Also known as the “First Lady of the Black Press,” Ethel Payne paved the way for black journalists. Throughout her trailblazing career, Payne covered important historical events such as the Nigerian Civil War and the Vietnam War.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

As an activist, writer and feminist, Ida B. Wells-Barnett led a revolutionary career against lynching. Wells’ courage to protest racial violence was life threatening, and at one point she was forced to flee her home after receiving death threats. However, this didn’t stop Wells from co-founding the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Dorothy Dandridge

In 1955, Dorothy Dandridge became the “first African American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress” for the musical Carmen Jones. Although Dandridge didn’t win, her accomplishment gave the opportunity for other black women, such as Academy Award winner Halle Berry, to follow in her footsteps.

Mary Church Terrell

Daughter of Robert Reed, the first African American billionaire, Mary Church Terrell attended Oberlin College and became “one of the first African American women to earn a college degree.” Alongside Ida B. Wells-Barnett and several other activists, Terrell founded the NACW and later was the “first African-American woman appointed to a school board.”

Shirley Chisholm

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman to gain a seat in Congress. Chisholm made history again in 1972 by becoming the “first woman and African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States.” To think that we could’ve had a black female president in the ‘70s...

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson was most known for being an LGBTQ+ activist and a prime initiator of the Stonewall Riots. Her most significant role in activism included the creation of the “Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a group committed to helping homeless transgender youth in New York City.

Wangari Maathai

Before becoming the first African woman to be granted the Nobel Peace Prize, environmental activist Wangari Maathai created the Green Belt movement “to prevent soil erosion and provide firewood for cooking fires” in Kenya. Alongside those achievements, she was the first central-east African woman to obtain a Ph.D.

As impressive as this list is, it’s unfortunate that some of these influential women aren’t in our history books. Maybe one day these women will be as well known as Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman.