Growing up, the fact that I was Black never really crossed my mind. Don’t get me wrong! I knew then, just as I know now that I, am a Black person, but (luckily) for me it was never something that was made apparent.
As a result of this, I never took the time to delve into Black History. I didn’t think I needed to. Until I got older and with the events of 2020 making us all more aware than ever just how important Black History actually is. I had to educate myself. And where better to start than with Black Women?
Put simply; Black History wouldn’t be quite as rich or beautiful without Black women. Below are some of the women that I think if you don’t know, you should probably get to know.
I only learnt of her in her death, if I had heard of her before I honestly don’t remember, but goodness me, was she amazing. She was the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993 and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I saw so many clips and read countless articles growing more in love as I did; I would strongly recommend the documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am. It follows her life and work and in it, she discusses the powerful themes that she wrote about in her career.
Madam CJ Walker
Born Sarah Breedlove, Madam CJ is recorded as the first female self-made millionaire in America in the Guinness Book of World Records. If you didn’t watch Self Made which is a fictionalised four-part series on her life and how she built an empire that premiered on Netflix earlier this year, then you need to get on it. It’s inspiring, funny, sad and everything that you would want in a series. In addition to her entrepreneurial work, she was a philanthropist and social and political and social activist.
Olive passed away when she was only 27 but left a lasting legacy. She was born in Jamaica but her family emigrated as a part of the Windrush generation when she was only 9 years old. From the age of about 17, she became a community leader and activist who fought for the equal rights of Black people in England. She was one of the founding members of the Brixton Black Women’s Group, the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent, the Manchester Black Women’s Co-Operative and the Black Women’s Mutual Aid Group. As if all of the above were not enough, she was also a member of the youth section of the British Black Panther Movement, partook in squatting in buildings in Brixton in order to establish self-help community spaces and also assisted in establishing a supplementary school for Black children in Manchester while she was there for her own studies.
Also known as “the most famous African woman on Earth” was born in West Africa in either present-day Gambia or Senegal, but shipped to America when she was 7 or 8, where she was sold into slavery. She went on to become the first African woman to be published in Britain and America, and the second African poet to publish a book. Ever.
Surprisingly, the family that owned her (the Wheatley’s) taught her to read and write to the extent that she was reading Greek and Latin classics by the age of 12; and they encouraged her writing once they noticed her talent for poems, the first of which she wrote when she was 14. The road to her getting published was paved by the Wheatley’s who also went on to emancipate her soon after her book was released. Despite all this, once the Wheatley’s died, all the connections disappeared and so she sadly passed away in poverty at the age of 31.
I could go on and on listing the amazing women who have come before us, but I hope that this whets your appetite enough for you do some research of your own!
Happy Black History Month x