As February is Black History Month, one cannot ignore the achievements and contributions made by black people alike, more specifically the role black women have played in multiple industries. Here is a list of 10 inspirational Black women of the past and the present!
Then: Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou is considered to be one of the most consequential figures of the 20th century. With a diverse career spanning five decades, the late journalist and civil-rights activist, memoirist and poet was awarded the National Medal of Arts (2000) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010). She won three Grammy Awards for her spoken-word albums (1993, 1995, and 2002). In 1994 she was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Now: Amanda Gorman
At just 22, American poet and public speaker Amanda Gorman has proven to be incredibly influential. She became the first person to be named the National Youth Poet Laureate and is the youngest inaugural poet in history after speaking at the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in January of 2021. Amanda delivers inspirational messages that focus on impactful topics and issues of oppression, feminism, race and marginalization, that are of much-needed conversation today.
LGTBQ Rights Activists
Then: Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. Johnson was an outspoken transgender rights activist and is reported to be one of the central figures of the historic Stonewall uprising of 1969. She helped to form the Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR) alongside fellow trans activist Sylvia Rivera, and was an activist in the 90s AIDS crisis with AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). Her philanthropy extended to the organizations she founded that provided housing and aid to homeless queer youth and sex workers in Manhattan.
Now: Laverne Cox
Notable for her role in Orange Is the New Black, actress Laverne Cox has made several achievements as the first openly transgender person to be on the cover of Time Magazine or be nominated for a Primetime Emmy. As well, she is the first openly transgender woman to win a Daytime Emmy as an Executive Producer.
Then: Mae C. Jemison
Mae Carol Jemison is an American engineer, physician and former NASA astronaut. She became the first black woman to travel into space when she served as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
Now: Jeanette Epps
NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps will soon make history, becoming the first Black woman to live and work long-term aboard the International Space Station. Her flight is scheduled for 2021.
Million Dollar Beauty Moguls
Then: Madam C.J. Walker
Madam C.J. Walker, born to former slaves in Louisiana, invented a method for straightening black hair and went on to develop formulas for hair growth in her 30s. She moved to Denver, Colorado where she opened her own business. She sold her hair products through door-to-door sales and opened her second office and institution, Leila College, in 1908. In 1910, Walker opened her national headquarters in Indianapolis, where she manufactured and trained Walker Agents. Madam C.J. Walker was one of the first individuals to make beauty accessible to black women and also became the nation’s first female millionaire.
Now: Pat McGrath
With an incredible eye for beauty, Pat McGrath is a self-made billionaire and veteran beauty visionary. Her expertise and skill are undeniable. She has gone on to work with some of the most notable names in beauty and fashion such as Giorgio Armani, CoverGirl and Max Factor, regularly leading over 60 shows each Fashion Week season.
Then: Luci Collins
Luci Collins was the first black female gymnast to be named to the U.S. Olympic Team (1980), but didn’t get to compete at the Olympics due to the U.S. boycott.
Now: Simone Biles
Simone Biles has made history as the most decorated American gymnast in history, with 19 Olympic & World Championship medals. She also holds the American record for the most gold medals won by a gymnast, male or female, at a single Olympic Games (4 in 2016).