Today there are a number of Black women standing against the tides of opposition to work towards a brighter future for Black women in the 21st century. So, to honor National Women’s Equality Day, which lands on Aug. 26 of every year, we’re shining a light on a few Black change-makers who are breaking historic ground in the fight for justice and equality for all women.
Cori Bush and Stacey Abrams are some of the Black women in office carving historic milestones in history fighting for women’s rights regarding equal pay and ensuring that their ballots are recognized and accounted for during election season– but this hasn’t always been the case. August 17th marked the 100 year anniversary of the 19th amendment — a powerful piece of legislation that gave women the right to vote in 1920 — and that would serve as a pivotal moment in women’s history.
It’s vital to take a look at the past in order to fully understand how far Black women have come. Activists like Mary McLeod Bethune undoubtedly paved the wave for freedom fighters like Bush and Abrams. Bethune fought tirelessly during the Women’s Suffrage Movement championing for Black women’s right to vote and for their access to better-paying jobs and education. Bethune founded the National Council for Negro Women in 1935–an initiative that helped to improve the lives of Black women and their communities.
“It is our pledge to make a lasting contribution to all that is finest and best in America, to cherish and enrich her heritage of freedom and progress by working for the integration of all her people regardless of race, creed, or national origin, into her spiritual, social, cultural, civic, and economic life, and thus aid her to achieve the glorious destiny of a true and unfettered democracy,” she told officials of the iconic achievement.
In 1938, the NCNW hosted the White House Conference on Negro Women and Children, demonstrating the importance of black women in democratic roles. During World War II, the NCNW gained approval for black women to be commissioned as officers in the Women’s Army Corps. Bethune also served as a political appointee and the Special Assistant to the Secretary of War during that period.
The honorary civil rights leader was later appointed to serve as a national adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom she worked with to create the Federal Council on colored Affairs, also known as the Black Cabinet. The council worked to ensure that blacks received 10 percent of welfare funds, arguing that much of the Black community was underrepresented under the New Deal.
The educator eventually founded her own school Bethune-Cookman University in 1931.
Bethune is famously known for saying the quote “If we accept and acquiesce in the face of discrimination, we accept the responsibility ourselves. We should, therefore, protest openly everything … that smacks of discrimination or slander,” and that she did indeed.
Here are a few Black women carrying on that same tradition and fighting for equality in today’s world.
1. Stacey AbramsSource:Stacey Abrams
Abrams ran against Georgia’s former Secretary of State Brian Kemp in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election. The prolific politician lost the race by a margin of 55,000 votes, which she and her political colleagues attributed to voter suppression amongst communities of color.
The 47-year-old changemaker has spent the last few years championing for better voting laws with her Fair Fight Act campaign that aims to promote and educate voters about elections and their voting rights. The initiative also strives to help eligible voters get registered in their state. According to Forbes, Abrams was able to help register “800,000 people in the state of Georgia” in 2018.
“We changed the trajectory of the nation because our combined power shows that progress is not only possible—it is inevitable,” Abrams told the press after her historic feat.
Abrams was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize because of her historic push for Black voter turnout during this year’s election.
2. Cori BushSource:Getty
Cori Bush made history back in January when she became the first Black woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from Missouri. The activist beat out Lacy Clay who had previously held the seat for 10-terms. Even with her short time in Congress, the fiery politician has blazed forth passing a number of laws fighting for equal rights amongst the economically disadvantaged and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Back in July, Bush slept outside the U.S Capitol in order to help extend the Eviction Moratorium under the Cares Act before it was set to end on July 31st. The brave move saved millions of Americans from potentially becoming unhoused during the height of the pandemic. Because of Bush, the CDC extended the moratorium on August 3.
3. Kamala HarrisSource:Getty
Kamala Harris undoubtedly made history during the 2020 elections as the former attorney became the 49th Vice President of the United States. Harris also cemented her name in history books as the first African American and South Asian woman to sit in the United States’ highest-ranking position.
4. Allyson FelixSource:Getty
Following her contentious split from Nike in 2019, Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix and her brother Wes cofounded Saysh, a company that strives beyond your typical shoe brand. Saysh is made exclusively for and by women. The star athlete’s bold venture into the shoe world makes her one of the first female entrepreneurs to step foot into the sneaker business and she hopes to make the industry more inclusive of women’s needs. Felix worked carefully alongside her design team to create a sneaker that was comfortable and proportionate to women’s feet.
Saysh will officially go live in September and will cost customer’s $150 for a pair.
During the Tokyo Olympics this year, the famed track and field sprinter worked together with the organization to provide child care grants to moms competing in the event. Felix who is an advocate for balancing her career with motherhood previously wrote about her frustrations with Nike who threatened to take away her sponsorships deal if she failed to compete in events shortly after giving birth.
“If we have children, we risk pay cuts from our sponsors during pregnancy and afterward, ” Felix penned in an op-ed for The New York Times. “It’s one example of a sports industry where the rules are still mostly made for and by men.”
Shortly after the outrage that ensued following the piece, Nike changed their maternity policy for all sponsored athletes.
5. Serena WilliamsSource:Getty
Whether she’s setting records on the court with her 23 Grand Slam championships ( the most held by any player in the Open Era ) or charting into the investment world to help low income families build credit with the launch of her investment firm Esusu, Williams has proved time and time again that she can do it all, and she loves giving back to her community.
This month the tennis giant teamed up with a group of investors to help fund a Black-owned healthcare startup founded by creator Kimberly Wilson. The new app dubbed HUED will help to fight against inequality within the healthcare system. The initiative also aims to provide the Black community with health professionals that will make culturally competent decisions around their care needs.
In February of this year, the star donated a hefty portion of her jewelry company’s proceeds to help Black entrepreneurs affected by the economic crisis ignited by the pandemic with help from the Opportunity Fund.
6. Kizzmekia CorbettSource:Getty
Kizzmekia Corbett is an immunologist that has been hard at work trying to find solutions to bring the pandemic to a close. The NIH virology researcher was at the forefront of developing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
7. Brittany Packnett CunninghamSource:Getty
Cited by President Barack Obama as a leader whose “voice is going to be making a difference for years to come,” Brittany is an award-winning educator, organizer, writer, and leader. The MSNBC contributor has become a leader for her activism in social change and empowerment.
Brittany is the Founder and Principal of Love & Power Works, a full-service social impact firm focused on creating justice and equity in every sector.
The equality warrior previously worked as a Congressional policy advisor and later co-founded Campaign Zero, using her management, communications, policy, and equity skillset on broad justice issues from public education to criminal justice. She was also a member of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and the Ferguson Commission, helping to lead the country and her community through change during times of tumult.
8. Ilhan OmarSource:Getty
Serving as Minnesota’s 5th congressional district in 2019, Ilhan Omar has made waves throughout her short tenure in congress. Previously the Somali American Congresswoman served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 2017 to 2019.
Omars’ accolades include her advocacy for a $15 minimum wage, universal healthcare, and her desperate push for student loan debt forgiveness. The 38-year-old lawmaker also fought to abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).