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14 Black Pioneers You Need to Remember

In honor of Black History Month, here’s a list of 14 black women who’ve molded the world we live in today through their selfless acts of courage, activism efforts and pure greatness.


  • Harriet Tubman

Now, ladies, if you don’t know Harriet Tubman…shame on you. Tubman is one of the most prominent historical figures of American history. She’s responsible for the rescuing of almost 300 slaves and escorting them to Maryland through the underground railroad and bringing them to freedom. At one point, she had a $40,000 reward for her arrest. She died in New York in 1913, but not before she got to be a spy!

  • Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a journalist, newspaper editor, feminist and early Civil Rights Movement leader. She is famously known for documenting and shedding light on lynching through the newspaper.

  • Madam C.J. Walker

Madam C.J. Walker became an orphan at the age of seven. Overcoming all life’s obstacles, Walker became the first Black self-made millionaire in America. She did so by producing hair care products that allowed her to travel across America and go abroad. Thank her for Edge Control, girls!

  • Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou is a world-renowned author, poet and activist. She’s critically acclaimed both in America and abroad for her work in literature. Despite that, Angelou still stayed at the forefront of politics and racial equality and empowerment. She appeared at inaugurations, rallies and shared hers and others stories of discrimination and struggle with the world.


  • Shirley Chisholm

Time to get political! Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman to be elected to Congress. She won in New York in 1968 and retired in 1983. She’s known as a feisty politician and has been recognized in pop-culture as well as in politics and academia for her achievements in her career as well as her symbolism.


  • Rosa Parks

This is another pioneer whose life achievements should be committed to memory by now, girl! Rosa Parks is known as the “Mother of Freedom” and face of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1955 on a Montgomery bus while coming home after a long day, Parks committed an act of bravery by sitting in the “white” section of a public bus and refusing to move when asked. This gained national attention and paved the way to a number of improvements in the everyday lives of African-Americans.

  • Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth was a preacher, gender and racial equality activist who was born into slavery. She spread the word of God and equality throughout her lifetime and is best known for her speech “Ain’t I A Woman?” in 1851. Seven years later, she also exposed her breasts while addressing a congregation in North Indiana, after some men in the audience accused her of being a man.

  • Coretta Scott-King

Following the death of her husband, the great Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott-King became an advocate for the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights Movement, advised the nation’s leadership and pursued the causes of her late husband. During her later years, Scott fought apartheid in South Africa and got involved with the LGBT movement. This pushed her to encourage Civil Rights activists to reject homophobia and discrimination of all minority groups.

  • Fannie Lou Hamer

Born into a family of 19 children, Fannie Lou Hamer is the founder of the phrase “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” (yes, girl! You know the phrase). She was a Civil Rights activist in Mississippi, which is where the phrase was coined.

  • Ursula Burns

Ursula Burns is about her paper! She is one of America’s most powerful businesswomen to date. Burns is currently the head of Xerox and is the company’s standing CEO and chairwoman. She grew up in the projects in New York, entered Xerox as an intern and worked her way up to the top. She is the FIRST black woman to head a company of this size.

  • Michelle Obama

FLOTUS COME BACK! This bombshell, as you better know, is none other than former First Lady Michelle Obama. Not only is she the first black First Lady, but she’s also an American lawyer and writer, a two-time ivy league graduate and an advocate for women, health, equality and military families. During her time in the White House, Obama created initiatives to tackle America’s crises including one that addressed obesity, which is one of America’s leading public health crises. She slays!

  • Dorothy Height

Dorothy Height was a prominent civil rights activist who stood alongside the likes of Dr. Martin Luther-King Jr., Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott-King. She was one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington and was the only woman seated on the speaker’s platform during King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.


  • Ella Baker

Ella Baker has several decades of work which include an array of both racial and economic justice efforts. After students at a black college organized a sit-in at the lunch counter in a Greensboro, North Carolina school, Baker set up a meeting with the activists which lead to the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960. This group helped organize the 1961 Freedom Rides where they fought segregation in interstate bus and train systems. Go, Ella!


  • Henrietta Lacks


Henrietta Lacks was the producer of HeLa cells, which are the oldest and most commonly used human cell line. They were derived from Lacks’ body during her treatments for cervical cancer and were the first human cells to be successfully cloned and immortal. The first success story that involved the use of HeLa cells was the vaccination for polio.


I'm a Communications major at William Paterson University. This is my first semester here as a freshman and I'm new to writing for Her Campus.
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