Female pioneers to remember during Black History Month By Dr. Kandis Boyd
Updated: Mar 1
Black History Month is celebrated in February to commemorate and celebrate the achievements of African Americans throughout American history. During this month, I am often reminded of the African American pioneers who led the way and made it possible for so many that followed. There are so many notable accomplishments of African Americans that need to be commended not just during Black History Month, but all year long. African American achievements have helped advance to society and span various areas, including science, activism, and literature.
African American Females Also Deserve Tribute During Black History Month
During Black History Month, equal tribute should be paid to not only African American men, but also African American women as well. Here are some little-known facts about some female African Americans and their contributions to society (in alphabetical order):
● Stacey Abrams is a political activist and was the first Black woman to become the gubernatorial nominee for a major party in the United States. In addition, she was the first Black woman and the first Georgian to deliver a Response to the State of the Union.
● Tyra Banks became a global supermodel. She was the first African American woman to appear on the cover of GQ, Sports Illustrated (swimsuit edition) and the Victoria's Secret catalog.
● Ludmya "Mia" Bourdeau Love won her race in Utah in the 2014 midterm elections. She was the first African American Republican to serve in the House of Representatives.
● Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African American female to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1950.
● Alexa Canady was the first black female neurosurgeon in the U.S. and specializes in pediatric neurosurgery.
● Shirley Chisholm became the first black female U.S. Representative and served as the Congresswoman from New York from 1969-1983.
● Bessie Coleman became the first African American pilot in 1921.
● Kamala Harris, elected with President Joe Biden, became the first woman, the first African American, and the first Asian American to hold the office of Vice President.
● Dorothy I. Height was the co-organizer of the March on Washington in 1963. She was also the first leader in the civil rights movement to recognize inequality for women and African Americans as problems. Height was the president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years.
● Shirley Ann Jackson is the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1964. She also served as the first African American female chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
● Mae Jemison became the first black woman to travel into space in 1992. She served as a mission specialist astronaut aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor.
● Marie Maynard Daly became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Columbia University in 1921.
● Hattie McDaniel became the first African American female to speak on the radio. Later, she later became the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in “Gone with the Wind.”
● Toni Morrison is the first African American to win a Nobel Prize for literature in 1993.
● Carol Mosely Braun became the first Black woman Senator, serving from 1992-1998 for the state of Illinois.
● Michelle Obama became the nation's first Black First Lady when her husband, Barack Obama, defeated Sen. John McCain in the general election on November 4, 2008.
● Charlotte Ray graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1872 and became the first African American lawyer.
● Condoleezza Rice became the first Black female Secretary of State from 2005-2009.
● Patricia Roberts Harris became the first Black female ambassador to Luxembourg in 1965 and the first Black female cabinet minister in 1977. She served as the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Jimmy Carter.
● Madame C. J. Walker became America’s first African American millionaire by creating a complete range of haircare products for Black women.
● Maxine Waters has served for 15 terms as the House of Representatives member from California. Congresswoman Waters made history as the first woman and first African American Chair of the House Financial Services Committee.
● Oprah Winfrey became the first African American female billionaire and the first woman to own her own cable TV network.
● Phillis Wheatley was the first African American poet who published “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” in 1773. She is considered the founder of African American literature.
One thing is unforgettable – this list represents passionate African American women who made society better in their own way. In summary, it’s important during Black History Month to provide accolades to notable African American women who are pioneers in their own right. However, accolades are just the beginning. We need to do more than just recognize the contributions of women and especially African American women. We need to make it easier for others to follow in their footsteps to enable the next generation of pioneers.