As we take the time to reflect on some of the brave souls who have influenced our lives and the world this Black History Month, we want to honor a few remarkable historic women who juggled motherhood and their positive impact on the Black community. We typically focus on the achievements of those who came before us, but we forget that many of them had families who had to carry the burden of sacrifice and share their loved ones with the rest of the world.
The legacy of these 6 Black mothers have made a great impact on the world during the most pivotal time in American history, all while raising children.
Before becoming an award-winning poet and activist, Angelou took care of her family as a single mother since the birth of her son Guy when she was only 17 years old. She experienced racial prejudices and discrimination firsthand all while becoming an actress, writer, poet, composer, dancer, and the first black female director in Hollywood. Angelou worked for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X being a civil rights activist.
Harriet Tubman, dubbed the "Moses of her people," as she led enslaved people to freedom with the help of the Underground Railroad. She was a force as the first woman to command a military expedition in history. She served in the Union Army as a chef, nurse, scout, and spy, among other things. When she led the Combahee River Raid in South Carolina, she freed over 700 slaves. She adopted her daughter Gertie Davis all while advocating for women’s voting rights and became the first keynote speaker at the first National Federation of Afro-American Women’s meeting.
Madam C.J. Walker
As America's first self-made female millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker pioneered hair products for African American hair care. At just 14 years old, she married Moses McWilliams and gave birth to a daughter, A'Lelia. After 2 years McWilliams passed away leaving Walker to work as a washerwoman to provide for her daughter. She became interested in the science of hair care and began experimenting with a mix of homemade and store-bought solutions for her condition. Years later she would become a haircare entrepreneur with products made especially for black women.
Through her highly successful career in Paris after suffering racism in the United States, Josephine Baker became famous for her comedic dancing and performed all over the world. She aggressively campaigned against discrimination when she returned to the United States several years later, earning her a day of recognition from the NAACP. As a remarkable adoptive mother of 12 children, Baker nicknamed her children as the "Rainbow Tribe" because of their different ethnic and religious backgrounds, to demonstrate that people of all backgrounds could coexist.
Frances M. Beal
With numerous titles throughout her life, Frances M. Beal was a writer, feminist, advocate for peace, and political organizer in her lifetime. She spent 75 years fighting for equality and liberation. Beal challenged the many oppressions encountered by Black women in these movements in her notable pamphlet, "Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female,". While residing in Paris, she continued to be engaged in politics and welcomed two daughters with her husband.
Nina Simone's multifaceted career and dynamic impact cannot be captured by a single type of music or singing style. Simone got accepted to Juilliard to study classical piano after beginning her studies in classical and religious music at the age of 3. She began her career as a vocalist, performing jazz, blues, spirituals, pop, soul, and folk covers and originals. In the 60’s she played protest songs, became a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, and took part in civil rights demonstrations. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, also became an award-winning vocalist known for her work on Broadway.
These trail-blazing women continue to inspire us all as mothers and professionals by empowering future generations while fighting oppression and racial inequality in their time.