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    She Reigns: 19th and Early 20th Century Activist Edition

    Given how tumultuous it is to be Black in America in general, but especially over the course of the last week, we wanted to bring to light some Black female activists. Because, only Black women can say “when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole…race enters with me.” —ANNA JULIA COOPER, 1892 

    1. Fannie Lou Hamer

    “They kicked me off the plantation, they set me free. It’s the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people.”

    Fannie Lou Hamer was born in October 1917, in Montgomery County, Mississippi. As a child, she worked as a sharecropper  and at 37 saw a sign for the Student Nonviolent Organizing Committee (SNCC). In SNCC, Fannie worked on the voter registration committee and helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Summer. In addition, she helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964 to stand in opposition to Mississippi’s all white delegation to that years Democratic National Convention. In 1965 she unsuccessfully ran for Congress in Mississippi. Her activism centered around the belief that Black people could change their future if they could vote for candidates that would keep their interests in mind and serve them. 

    2. Amy Ashwood Garvey

    “Be not discouraged black women of the world, but push forward, regardless of the lack of appreciation shown you.” – Amy Ashwood Garvey

    Amy Ashwood Garvey was born in January 1897 in Port Antonio, Jamaica. She was raised in Panama and became an associate of Marcus Garvey in Kingston, Jamaica as a teenager. Together, with Marcus, she founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Jamaica. Eventually, the UNIA grew and put down roots in NYC, with chapters all over the country and world. Amy organized the women’s wing of the UNIA and worked to promote the groups newspaper, The Negro World. She was also involved with Black Star Line, another sect of the UNIA. Her activism centered on girls education, Pan-Africanism, black wage-working women’s rights, and party politics. She is remembered for her work with the UNIA and pioneering efforts to improve the status of black women globally, among other things. 

    3. Septima Poinsette Clark 

    “Freedom has always been lost by a people who allowed their rights to be gradually whittled away.” – Septima Poinsette Clark

    Septima Clark was born in May 1898 in Charleston, South Carolina. She worked with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, setting up citizenship schools that helped African Americans register to vote. She also worked as a teacher in South Carolina. She got involved with the NAACP and in 1945 worked with Thurgood Marshall on a case that sought equal pay for black and white teachers. After losing her job for refusing to leave the NAACP, she worked with Tennessee’s Highlander Folk School’s Citizenship Program teaching people how to read and write, as well as, how to teach others to do the same. Under her leadership, more than 800 citizenship schools were created. We remember her for her commitment to educating our people. 

    4. Anna Julia Cooper

    “Let our girls feel that we expect something more of them than that they merely look pretty and appear well in society.” – Anna Julia Cooper

    Anna Julia Cooper was born in August 1858, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Anna was born into slavery and spent her lifetime working to uplift and empower black women. She believed that the status of black women was central to the progress and equality of the nation. After getting a B.A. and M.A. from Oberlin College, Anna worked as a teacher at the M Street School in Washington, DC. She founded the Colored Women’s League of Washington in 1892, and later helped open the first YWCA chapter for Black women. In 1924, she became the fourth black woman in the U.S. to receive a PhD. Anna believed that education would open doors for black women and spent her life not only educating herself, but working to educate black women and girls in order to improve their social stature. She never gave in to the demands of America’s white, male-dominated society and for that we salute her. 

    5. Ella Baker

    “Give light and people will find the way.” – Ella Baker 

    Ella Baker was born in December 1903, in Norfolk, Virgina. She was a leading figure in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1927, she moved in NYC and helped start the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League, which helped people pool money to get better resources. In 1940, she got involved with the NAACP, raising funds and recruiting new members. In 1957, She joined the Southern Christen Leadership Conference as executive director and helped create SNCC in 1960. She, along with Fannie Lou Hamer was involved with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and helped in their attempt to attend the National Democratic Convention in 1964. Her nickname was ‘Fundi’ which in Swahili means someone who passes down a craft to the next generation. We salute Ella for never wavering in her pursuit of our rights and leaving a better world behind for us. 

    6. Daisy Bates

    “No man or woman who tries to pursue an ideal in his or her own way is without enemies.” – Daisy Bates

    Daisy Bates was born in November 1914, in Huttig, Arkansas. She operated a weekly African-American newspaper, the Arkansas State Press, a paper that championed civil rights. In 1952, she became president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP. In 1954, after the ruling in Brown V. Board of Education that ruled against school segregation, black students who tried to enroll in white schools were turned away in Arkansas. Bates played an instrumental role in combating this by organizing the Little Rock Nine to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock in 1957. Her house served as headquarters for the effort and she counseled the Little Rock Nine, even in the midst of personal death threats. We remember her for standing up for what is right and fighting for equality under the law not just in name, but in deed. 

    7. Mary McLeod Bethune

    “Cease to be a drudge, seek to be an artist.” – Mary McLeod Bethune

    Mary McLeod Bethune was born in July 1875, in Mayesville, South Carolina. As a child, she worked in the fields picking cotton. Mary was the only child in her family to go school and later received a scholarship to Scotia Seminary, a school for girls in North Carolina. She later worked as a teacher and founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls in Daytona, Florida in 1904, which later combined with Cookman Institute for Men to become Bethune-Cookman College. In 1924, she became president of the National Association of Colored Women, after serving as president of the Florida chapter for many years. In 1935, she became an advisor to President Roosevelt on minority affairs and started the National Council of Negro Women. In 1936, she became director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration – serving as a trusted advisor to President and First Lady Roosevelt. She is remembered for working to educate and advance the rights of black people and women. 

    8. Ida B. Wells

    “The white man’s dollar is his god, and to stop this will be to stop outrages in many localities.” – Ida B. Wells

    Ida B. Wells was born in July 1862, in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Born a slave, she became a journalist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the U.S. in the 1890s. She refused to give up her seat on a train 70 years before Rosa Parks would refuse to get up from the bus. In 1892, after the lynching of three black men in Memphis, she rode around the South researching lynching and writing about the incident. In 1898 she took her anti-lynching campaign to the White House and urged President McKinley to make reforms. She was a founder of the NAACP and National Association of Colored Women. Wells also fought for women’s suffrage. In 1930, she ran unsuccessfully for the Illinois State Legislature, making her one of the first black women to run for US public office. We remember Wells for her efforts against lynching, a campaign that feels particularly necessary and relevant even still today. 


    Gabrielle Hickmon
    Gabrielle Hickmon

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