50 Black Women Who Made a Difference

Ebony, March 1993 | Go to article overview

50 Black Women Who Made a Difference


IN honor of Johnson Publishing Companys 50th anniversary, and in honor of Womens History Month, we asked a number of experts and scholars, male and female, to recommend 50 African-American women who made critical contributions in creating the foundations of the new world of American men and women. No attempt was made to create a list of the 50 most important women; editors and experts were simply asked to submit the names of crossroads women who transcended their field and their time by contributing an indispensable idea or program or leading a pivotal movement or making a forkshattering breakthrough. Also nominated were major figures who made history not only in their own name but as indispensable partners in a historical team. Since we have repeatedly featured 19th century greats, we focused entirely on 20th century pathtfinders. The tentative list is by no means conclusive and is made up of historical figures who represent not only themselves but a long line of sister pioneers who helped make Black women--and Black men--what they are today.

MADAME C.J. WALKER

The first self-made woman millionaire (above), Walker (1867-1919) developed the "hot-iron" process for straightening hair and became a major business leader and philanthropist.

MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE

The first Black woman to receive a major U.S. government appointment, educator (1875-1955) rounded Bethune-Cookman College and was the mentor and mother-figure for generations of Black leaders.

PATRICIA ROBERTS HARRIS

Attorney (1924-1985) was the first Black woman cabinet member (secretary of Housing and Urban Development, 1976) and the first Black woman ambassador.

LENA HORNE

Often called America's first real Black movie star, the actress starred in numerous films and was a popular nightclub singer in the '30s, '40s and '50s.

JOSEPIONE BAKER

Entertainer and foe of racism (1906-1975) captivated Paris and became an international star. St. Louis-born singer was cited for her heroism in World War II.

MAYA ANGELOU

The poet laureate of the Clinton administration is also an author (I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings) and social commentator.

MARGARET WALKER ALEXANDER

Poet, novelist and educator is best known for her influential poem, For My People, which was published 51 years ago and her critically acclaimed novel, Jubilee.

ELLA BAKER

Brilliant organizer and activist, (1903-1986) helped to create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student-Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

IDA B. WELLS BARNETT

Editor, women's rights leader and co-founder of the NAACP (1862-1931 ) was pioneer leader of the anti-lynching movement.

MARIAN ANDERSON

A major concert figure and the possessor of "a voice that comes along once in a generation," the pioneer classical artist was the first Black singer signed by the Metropolitan Opera House.

DAISY BATES

As president of the Arkansas NAACP, the editor and activist was one of the major factors in the Little Rock, Ark., school integration crisis of 1957.

JANE M. BOLII

The first Black woman judge, she was appointed to the Court of Domestic Relations of New York City on July 22, 1939.

KATHERINE DUNHAM

Choreographer and dancer made the world recognize the unique rhythms of African-American dance. Her work laid the foundation for contemporary Black dancers.

ALICE COACHMAN

The first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, she placed first in the high jump competition at the 1948 Olympic Games in London.

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN

The first Black Democrat and the first Black woman in U.S. Senate, the Illinois lawyer was major leader of The Year of The Woman.

ELIZABETH CATLETT

Often called the dean of Black women artists, she has won numerous awards for her innovative sculptures and paintings on the struggles and triumphs of AfricanAmericans. …

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