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From A-Z: Dynamic Black Women In History  was originally published on

1. Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune

In 1904, Mary McLeod Bethune did something that was almost unheard of in American society at that time. She began a school for young African American girls in Daytona, Florida. That school would eventually flourish and merge with a boys’ school to become Bethune-Cookman University. Mary McLeod Bethune is also remembered for her innovative work in Civil Rights.

2. Mary Church Terrell

Mary Church Terrell

As the daughter of former slaves, Mary was one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree in 1884! Now that’s impressive! She became an activist who led several important associations, including the National Association of Colored Women and formed the Federation of Afro-American Women. Mary also worked tirelessly for Civil Rights and suffrage.

3. Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry

Hansberry was a famous playwright, primarily for becoming the first Black woman to have a play — “A Raisin In The Sun” — performed on Broadway. The title of the play was taken from Langston Hughes’ poem, “Harlem” and the play itself inspired Nina Simone to write “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.”

4. Karen Bass

Karen Bass

Karen Bass is currently the U.S. Representative for California’s 33rd congressional district. She is also the first black woman to hold the role of Speaker in any state Assembly. In California, Bass has focused on improving education facilities, health care and the foster care system. Bass served as chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, which seeks to better understand California’s black population and their needs.

5. Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris

Harris is currently the Attorney General of California. Previous to her victory in the 2010 State Elections, Harris served in a number of State offices.

6. Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells was a pioneer in the media and communication industries during the early 20th century. She is most remembered for her role in documenting the practice of lynching.

7. Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

As one of American history’s most prominent figures, Harriet Tubman was responsible for rescuing around 300 former slaves from the South and escorting them to freedom via the underground railroads that led to Maryland. At one point, a $40,000 reward was being offered for her arrest. Tubman was also a spy during her life. She died in New York in 1913.

8. Gloria Naylor

Gloria Naylor

New York-born writer, Gloria Naylor quickly received national attention after the publication of her first novel “The Women of Brewster Place” in 1972. The book spawned a popular TV series of the same name starring Oprah Winfrey, Lynn Whitfield, Jackee Harry, Lonette McKee and Robin Givhans. “Brewster Place” was a pivotal work about seven Black women in one neighborhood who struggled with racism, sexism and rape.

9. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia)

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia)

Her country, Liberia, was named in recognition of its intriguing connection to African slavery and, as its President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has made leaps and bounds in improving the role of women in aspects of Liberian society. She was elected in 2006 but had no family connection in politics to allow for an easy rise to power. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the first black woman to win a presidential election in Africa.

10. Dr. Dorothy Height

Dr. Dorothy Height

In 2010 the world lost one of its best, with the death of civil rights activist, Dorothy Height. Among many of Ms. Height’s colleagues were Dr Martin Luther-King Jr and Rosa Parks. While her passing evoked sadness, many celebrated her life in recognition of her ardent selflessness.

11. Donna Edwards

Donna Edwards

Currently serving as Congresswoman for Maryland’s 4th district, Donna Edwards is the first black woman to represent Maryland in the House of Representatives. She defeated her Republican rival in 2008 with an amazing 85 percent of the vote. She currently sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Science and Technology Committee.

12. Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks

The poet, who was named the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1985, was the first African American to win a Pultizer Prize in Poetry for ” Annie Allen,” her second collection of poems.

13. Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer

Hamer was an American voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She was also the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, attending the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in that capacity. Her plain-spoken manner and fervent belief in the Biblical righteousness of her cause gained her a reputation as an electrifying speaker and constant activist of civil rights.

14. Dame Eugenia Charles (Dominica)

Dame Eugenia Charles (Dominica)

Eugenia Charles was the Prime Minister of Dominica for 15 years until 1995. She was the first female head of state in the Americas and is currently the longest serving female prime minister recorded in world history.

15. Cynthia McKinney

Cynthia McKinney

This Democrat has served 12 years in the House of Representatives and was the first African-American woman to represent Georgia in the House. McKinney always steps up to be the voice of the people. She ran for president in 2008 under the Green party. She was even stranded in international waters and rescued by the Lebanese Navy after attempting to help the people of Gaza during military attack.

16. Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King

Martin Luther King Jr., King became a prominent figure in the Civil Rights and Womens’ Rights Movement, advising the nation’s leadership and pursuing the causes of her late husband.

17. Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice is no woman to mess with. As the first black woman to hold the position of Secretary of State. During her term, Rice was a well known figure of the Bush administration both nationally and abroad. But in addition to her political experience, she is also a published scholar, concert pianist and academic. She is currently working at Stanford University.

18. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda was a big deal way before a Beyonce shout-out. The prolific writer already had a few top selling books under her name — “Half of a Yellow Sun,” “Purple Hibiscus” and “The Thing Around Your Neck” — before 2013’s “Americanah.” Adichie is also the recipient of MacArthur Fellowship in 2008.

19. Madame CJ Walker

Madame CJ Walker

Orphaned at the age of 7, Madam C.J. Walker, who’s real name was Sarah Breedlove McWilliams Walker, overcame all adversity to become America’s first black self-made millionaire. She achieved her wealth by developing a range of haircare products that led her across the country and abroad.

20. Cathy Hughes

Cathy Hughes

Cathy Hughes, Founder and Chairperson of Radio One, Inc (parent company of Interactive One and, is a pioneer in business, media and entrepeneurship in America and the black community. In 1979, Hughes launched RadioOne, which since then has become the largest radio broadcast network in the United States with 69 stations in 22 cities.

21. Bessie A. Buchanan

Bessie A. Buchanan

Bessie became the first African-American woman to hold a seat in the New York State Legislature when she was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1954.

22. bell hooks

bell hooks

bell hooks, also known as Gloria Jean Watkins, is a passionate writer focused on dissecting racism, sexism, gender, class and societal oppression in many of her writings. She has published more than 30 books, including “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism” and “Feminism Is For Everybody.” The writer says she chose to lowercase her name to keep the focus on only on “the substance of her work.”

23. Bebe Moore Campbell

Bebe Moore Campbell

Campbell, another Oprah Book Club favorite, wrote three New York Times bestselling books, “Brothers and Sisters,” “Singing in the Comeback Choir” and “What You Owe Me.” She also explored mental health throughout her work and wrote a children’s book, “Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry,” about a young girl being raised by a mother who was mentally ill.

24. Barbara Smith

Barbara Smith

This woman played such a major role in building and maintaining Black feminism in America. As Black Nationalism emerged from the Civil Rights Movement, she became extremely put off by the sexism she experienced in male-dominated groups, and turned to Black feminist politics

25. Ayanna Pressley

Ayanna Pressley

A former staff member of Congressman Kennedy and Political Director to Senator Kerry in Massachusetts, Pressley is currently a Boston City counselor. She is expected to reach higher positions in the next few years.

26. Ayana Mathis

Ayana Mathis

Mathis was barely two years out of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop when her debut novel, “Twelve Years of Hattie” made a splash in the literary world. Critics, and Oprah, who recommended it for her famous Book Club, lauded the effort as an “elegant” and “remarkable” work.

27. Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde

Lorde was a Caribbean-American writer who chose to focus on fighting racism, sexism and homophobia through her words. As a woman who identified as bisexual, Lorde wanted to empower her readers work against racism in their personal lives. Many of her pivotal works include “From a Land Where Other People Live” and “The First Cities.”

28. Asha-Rose Migiro (United Nations)

Asha-Rose Migiro (United Nations)

Migiro is currently the 3rd Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. Along with Anna Tibaijuka, she is one of the highest ranked black women in the UN. Migiro was born and educated in Tanzania.

29. Anna Tibaijuka (United Nations)

Anna Tibaijuka (United Nations)

Anna Tibaijuka is the highest ranked African female in the United Nations, heading the UN-HABITAT program. She is a Swedish-educated, Tanzanian-born leader who has fought for the rights of women living in slums or without homes. Since becoming the Executive of UN-HABITAT, she has greatly increased its budget and function in the United Nations.

30. Angela Davis

Angela Davis

A nationally prominent counterculture activist and radical in the 1960s, Davis wears many hats. She was a leader of the Communist Party USA, and had close relations with the Black Panther Party through her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. She was twice a candidate for Vice President on the Communist Party USA ticket during the 1980s.

31. Angela Davis

Angela Davis

A nationally prominent counterculture activist and radical in the 1960s, Davis wears many hats. She was a leader of the Communist Party USA, and had close relations with the Black Panther Party through her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. She was twice a candidate for Vice President on the Communist Party USA ticket during the 1980s.