10 Influential Black Women You Should Know | Of Mercer

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Career and Life

10 Influential Black Women You Should Know

In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to highlight 5 Black women who have influenced American history, and 5 Black women entrepreneurs that are changing the landscape today! 

The days of February are dedicated every year to honoring the struggles and accomplishments of Black Americans throughout our history. What we know as Black History Month is more than just a month of remembrance, but a month to educate ourselves more on the past, present, and future of what it means to be Black in America. Through conscious learning, we can all learn from those who have shaped our country and those who are still overcoming adversity today to secure a brighter future for everyone. From activists, to scholars, to business owners, we wanted to honor the Black women who have influenced our country irrevocably and for the better. Read on to see our list of 5 Black women who have influenced history, and 5 Black owned businesses we love that deserve our support. 

1. Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells was an American journalist and activist during the late 1800s. Her work focused on highlighting the struggles that African American communities experienced that ranged from unequal treatment in public venues to violence and lynchings. In her investigatory work, she shed light on the fact that most of the violent acts that took place were simply due to non-criminal activity such as failing to pay debt or challenging white economic dominance, but put under the guise of a fabricated higher crime such as rape. Thus, she slowly peeled away at the alarming trend of creating false narratives around Black folk to incriminate them. We can see the effects of this in the carceral system even today. During her career, she was met by inevitable threats from hate groups, but continued to press on in her work anyway; without her research sociologists today would surely be years behind where they are now.

2. Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer was an American activist and a vocal leader in the Civil Rights Movement and the voting rights movement. Born in Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer grew up in the state and eventually married her husband who worked with her on the B. D. Marlowe plantation. After hardships and an unauthorized hysterectomy by a white doctor seeking to sterilize her, the couple adopted children of their own. This only strengthened Hamer’s will to change the country for herself and her children. Even today, there are barrier to voting such as Voter ID requirements and reduced early voting, however, during Hamer’s time voting was made virtually impossible for Black Americans. She led the movement to remedy this; first starting with leading 17 volunteers to register to vote- which later landed them in jail- to founding the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to challenge efforts to block the Black vote. Later, Hamer was involved in the creation of hundreds of acres of farming land and low income housing for Black Americans that was among the largest employers in the county. The tragedies, struggles, and triumphs of Fannie Lou Hamer’s life teach us today of what passion and perseverance truly is- and that we won’t let her work be in vain.

3. Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde, a notorious Black lesbian poet and Civil Rights leader, dedicated her life’s work to raising issues of racism, sexism, capitalism, and homophobia. In her works, she championed the rhetoric of liberation and intersectional coalition building to achieve greater equality. Although she may not have been a journalist, her work transcended mere prose and found a way of reaching all walks of life in a meaningful way. Growing up in Harlem during the Great Depression, Lorde already knew what it meant to be left on the sidelines economically and socially. With her career kicking off in the 1960’s, she gave light to ideas such as the hierarchy of oppression which influence and informs the struggles of the feminist movement today- that it is mostly geared to one race and one class. If you are interested in reading her works, we suggest reading Sister Outsider and The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. Under her mastery of words, these reads are both moving and informative.

4. Angela Davis

Activist, professor, Civil Rights leader, and abolitionist, Dr. Angela Davis is one of the most influential women in history whose works and ideas have shaped policy today and will continue to for years to come. Raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Angela Davis received a critical education under acclaimed universities which influenced her own works and teachings as her communist foundation. In February of 1971, Davis was later arrested for a crime that she did not commit, which led to massive protests and movements to free the illustrious philosopher. More than 200 local communities domestically, and 67 internationally, organized for her release. Among her most famous works are her critical analysis of the prison industrial complex, the ethics of grassroots organizing, and intersectional activism. Today, her activist efforts continue with movements such as Occupy Wall Street and the Black Lives Matter movement. Still a beacon of endless knowledge, research, and activism, Davis encourages young activists today to stand their ground and to always keep learning. We recommend Freedom is a Constant struggle to get started on Dr. Davis’s works.

5. Tarana Burke

Tarana Burke is an activist and organizer who grew up in the Bronx. At an early age, she followed the activist way, leading campaigns involving housing inequality and racial injustice. Throughout her career, Burke noticed the ubiquity of women, especially women of color, who had experienced sexual assault or abuse. Fueled by her own experience with sexual assault as well, Burke continued her way into looking for resources and spaces to aid these women. In 2007, Burke founded an organization to provide more resources to this cause and serve as an empowering organization for these young women- it was called JustBe, Inc. In her speeches and in this organization, Burke found a way to relate to the young women and help them find peace in other people’s experiences by using the phrase “metoo.” Soon after, the metoo movement took steam with more women finding refuge in this motto. While the phrase took off in a hashtag online, Burke continued with her nonprofit work facilitating young women in finding resources as survivors. If you didn’t know the name behind the hashtag that saved countless lives, you won’t forget it now.

The Black women who have changed the lives of many in the past and many to come extend far beyond this list, however, we hope this is a starting point for those wanting to learn more about them and to seek others. Without their push on forming equitable policy and changing community culture, all races of women would not have reached the peaks they have today. To celebrate Black women who are doing fun and interesting things today, we wanted to highlight their businesses and practices to give them their due credit in their given industry. Read on below!

1. Brittiny Terry

Brittinty Terry is the founder and head stylist of her interior design company, Effortless Composition. Born and raised in LA, Terry’s style aims at creating homes that appear personable but still effortless. She is a master of pairing together objects and styles that seemingly wouldn’t match, but end up looking flawless once put together, proving she has an eye for design. To get a taste of her style, check out the company’s Instagram, @effortlesscomposition. We love her eclectic taste bolstered by her African roots.

2. Karen Young

Founder of Oui the People, a razor and shave company, Karen Young sought to create a company that redefines the relationship between the traditional woman and needing to be hair-free at all times. With a consumer base of many different types of people ranging from non-binary to cisgender, Oui the People offers the option of shaving products that are branded to make us feel seen and comfortable with what we invite into our homes and put onto our bodies. That’s a message we can stand by!

3. Mignon Francois

Did someone say cupcake delivery? Mignon Francois, the found and CEO of The Cupcake Collection, created her company to feature unique flavors she couldn’t get elsewhere, like sweet potato and New Orleans King Cake. While The Cupcake Collection has plenty of classic flavors, it doesn’t shy from its individuality, as all the cupcakes are made right in her home! Who doesn’t love some homemade snacks at the end of the night?

4. Veladya Chapman

Founder of Earthmama Medicine, Veladya Chapman wanted to create a platform of love, acceptance, and enlightenment. Inherent in the name, Earthmama Medicine is a line of home-made herbal products such as anti-fungal solution and herbal supplements to aid in hormonal health. Along with products, Veladya Chapman also offers one on one counseling for those who seek it, which can look like anything from health to business. If you are looking to reset and cut some processed products out of your routine, this is the place to go.

5. Bea Dixon

Bea Dixon is the founder of Honey Pot Co, a feminine hygiene and care brand. Inspired by her own struggle with feminine care and bacterial infections, Dixon created a line of products that have helped her with her issues more than any product she tried on the market. The best part is that she uses herbs to do it, so you know nothing synthetic will upset your system. If you don’t know where to start, the website lets you take a quiz to assess your needs at the moment! From tampons, to sprays, to feminine wipes, the Honey Pot has you covered. 

As February comes to a close, let’s learn enough to continue this practice and celebrate Black History every month. With the women that have paved the way for us, and the women who seek to help us thrive today, we owe this much to them.