Women are the pillars of life. No wonder, Beyonce’s girl power movement with her hit song, ‘Who Run The World’ was a billboard topper for months (btw, have you heard she’s gonna be at Coachella?). Today (like all days) we celebrate womanhood. Let’s drive down memory lane on the streets of history to strong black women who caused positive changes in history.
Madam C.J. Walker
Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove, the daughter of two slaves from Louisiana in the second half of the 19th century. She was orphaned at age 7, a servant at 10 and married at 14. She had a rare scalp disease that made her lose her hair. Madam C.J. Walker worked to developed a formula to remedy hair problems and began to commercialize it. She became the first black millionaire businesswoman. She also decided to use her influence to lobby for the rights of black Americans. In 1998, the United States postal service even issued a commemorative stamp to honor Madam C.J. Walker
Hattie McDaniel was born in 1895 in Kansas and was the youngest of 13 children. By 1925, she became the very first African-American woman on the radio. In 1934 she appeared on-screen for the first time in Judge Priest and in 1939, Hattie landed the role that she would become known for throughout history: Mammy in Gone with the Wind. She later became the first black woman to win an Academy Award, as Best Supporting Actress. Hattie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1952 and died soon after. She will forever be remembered and was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1975.
Born into poverty in Missouri in 1906, Josephine Baker claimed both African American and Apalachee Indian heritage. Married at 13 and separated a few months later, she dedicated herself wholeheartedly to her passion, dance, which led her to the cabaret theaters in America and Paris, where she finally settled and obtained French nationality. Josephine Baker is often considered to be the first black female star. When asked why she left the United States for France, it is said she responded that it was because she could no longer stand living in a country where she was “afraid to be black”.
Donyale Luna made her mark on the history of fashion with her extraordinary career way before the wave of supermodels like Cindy and Claudia in the 1990s. Born in Detroit, she had a difficult childhood and an unusual appearance. She was spotted by photographer David McCay and became a superstar of the Seventies. Contrary to popular belief, the first black woman to grace the cover of Vogue wasn’t Naomi Campbell; it was Donyale Luna. She hit the cover of the British edition of the biggest fashion magazine in the world in 1966. It was a symbolic choice for the world of fashion, which was finally opening up to African cultures.
Halle Berry was the first African-American woman to receive an Oscar for Best Actress in 2002 for her role in Monster’s Ball. After making her acting debut in a Spike Lee film, she landed roles in a series of high-profile roles, like Storm in the X-Men films and the James Bond girl, Jinx, in Die Another Day. Despite her successful career, she’s always had quite a troubled personal life and has spoken out to the media on several occasions against domestic violence, since she has herself suffered from such violence in the past.
Born in Alabama, an American state that was highly segregated in the 1950s, Rosa Parks was a seamstress who soon became the “mother” of the civil rights movement. On the 1st of December 1955, Rosa Parks entered the history books by refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. This was considered a violation of the segregation laws that were in place at the time, resulting in her arrest, a court appearance, and a fine. Her action led to a huge protest campaign, led by 26-year-old pastor Martin Luther King: for 381 days, black citizens boycotted the bus company. The influential pacifist movement resulted in the abolition of segregation laws one year later by the Supreme Court.
Tyra Banks is one of the most powerful supermodels and television personalities in the media today. She was born in 1973 in California. Tyra was the first African-American woman to appear on the cover of GQ, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, and the Victoria’s Secret lingerie catalog. She created the show America’s Next Top Model in 2003.
Oprah Winfrey started out in life as just a regular girl from a poor background in Mississippi. The first black woman to become a multi-millionaire, was no doubt a successful student and obtained a scholarship to Tennessee State University. She invests in helping victims of childhood sexual abuse, after confessing on her own show that she had been a victim herself during her childhood. In 2011, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored Oprah with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and in 2013, Oprah was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.