About the Women

  Harriet Tubman (2)

The famed heroine, Harriet Tubman, displayed such astounding leadership in guiding runaways to new lives and well-being in the north that she was fondly called “Moses.”  Like only a true leader could, Harriet historically planned crafty strategies for her runaway raids and demonstrated mental clarity, vision, and a passion for freedom.  Over the span of a decade, she conducted 19 Underground Railroad trips and led over 300 slaves to freedom.  In the end, Harriet proudly proclaimed that in all of her journeys she “never lost a single passenger.”  This can perhaps be credited to the fact that during these journeys two things sustained her: her pistol and her faith in God.  And, she wouldn’t hesitate to sternly warn fearful or tired slaves, "You'll be free or die."  Harriet’s leadership faithfully and dependably provided an opportunity for rebirth for all that followed her. 

Althea Gibson (3)

The talented tennis player, Althea Gibson has been extoled as “one of the greatest players who ever lived.”  During her career, she also successfully broke color barriers in professional tennis.  Rising to fame in 1956, she became the first person of color to win a Grand Slam title at the French Open.  That same year, she also became the first black player and champion in Wimbledon’s 80-year history, winning her first of three Wimbledon doubles trophy.  In total, Althea won 11 Grand Slam tournaments, including six doubles titles.  She was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press and has been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame.  Althea’s athleticism was immaculate and pristine.  Her sportsmanship exemplified a level of sophistication and integrity for spectators and enthusiasts.

 Mae Jemison (4)

Mae Jemison is the first black woman to travel to space, accomplishing this impressive feat in 1992 when she was launched into outer space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.  Mae was inspired to become an astronaut by the black female translator and communications officer Lieutenant Uhura from the popular show, Star Trek.  And, on her own shuttle flight, she was sure to incorporate her own cultural identity and influence by bringing along an Alvin Ailey dance poster, a West African statue, items from the DuSable Museum of African-American History, and a Michael Jordan jersey.  But more than just an astronaut, Mae has proven to be a woman of many talents.  She speaks four languages.  She is also a dancer, a doctor, a Peace Corps volunteer, a professor, an author and founder of technology companies.  Her Dorothy Jemison Foundation of Excellence coordinates a four-week international science camp called The Earth We Share (TEWS) that helps students think critically about solving current global issues.  Mae consistently exhibits civic responsibility, reasoning, and proficiency in her groundbreaking efforts in Science & Technology. 

 Billie Holiday (5)

It was on a fall day, in November 1933, that Jazz musician and singer-songwriter, Billie Holiday recorded her debut track at Columbia studios on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Nicknamed ‘Lady Day’, Billie Holiday was a focal artist in jazz history as she is notorious for her unique vocal style and performance, influenced by jazz instruments and marked with improvisations. Billie debuted, one of her biggest hits, ‘Strange Fruit’ in 1939 at Cafe Society, New York's first integrated nightclub.  Strange Fruit would eventually be declared song of the 20th century by Time magazine.  During her career, Billie released 38 charting singles.  And, a number of media outlets and award platforms would honor her contributions such as Esquire Magazine, VH1, Grammy Hall of Fame, Jazz Hall of Fame, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  In addition to her contributions to jazz and pop music, she also starred in films and musicals and wrote an autobiography titled “Lady Sings the Blues.”  Billie’s musicality and artistry was laced fused with passion, creativity, imagination, and sophistication.

Nina Simone (6)

The gifted musician Nina Simone never shied away from openly displaying her activism in her music.   In one of her most famous quotes, she self-proclaimed that “I’m a real rebel with a cause.  It was on her sixth Live Album ‘Nina Simone in Concert’ that Mississippi Goddam was debuted to the world.  The song captures Simone's sentiments to both the murder of Medgar Evers in Mississippi and the killing of the four girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Alabama.  She would go on to perform this song at the Selma-to-Montgomery march in Alabama. Though she studied classical piano at Julliard School of Music in New York City, Nina eventually meshed jazz, folk, blues, and gospel genres into her own unique sound.  She would also evolve her talents to also include singing, songwriting, and music arrangement.  During the span of her career, she produced 40 original albums.  Nina’s music couldn’t help but compel audiences to feel her awe-inspiring passion, energy, and fearlessness.

Zora Neale Hurston (7)

An anthropologist by way of Howard University, Barnard College, and Columbia University, Zora Neale Hurston was passionate about African American life.  And, she followed her own path in immersing herself in local cultural experiences and in creating literary works that reflected these experiences.  Her best known novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God” was written in only seven weeks while on a fellowship in Haiti. Her famed works, characteristic of the black experience, were also autobiographical at times especially when she fondly wrote about her hometown of Eatonville, Florida.  Established in 1887, Eatonville was the first all-black town in the United States.  She fondly wrote stories about this magical place where black Americans could lead, live, and thrive.  In the 1920s, she was an eager contributor to the Harlem Renaissance, using her Harlem apartment for social gatherings and launching a literary magazine, ‘Fire!!’ with friends Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes.  Zora’s literary works were inspirationally interwoven with elements of self-expression and folksy authenticity. 

Bessie Coleman (8)

Bessie Coleman was the first black woman to earn her Pilot’s license.  Because American Aviation Schools would not admit her flying studies, she instead studied for seven months in a France.  Bessie learned to fly in an Eight Meter biplane, an airplane with two wings stacked one above the other.  She had her first appearance flying in an airshow at Curtiss field in New York in 1922.  During this show, she amazed the audience at the airfield by performing courageous figure-eight loops and barrel rolls.  It was at this point that she became determined to be a stunt pilot, entertaining onlookers with aerial acrobatics, wing-walking, parachuting, and diving.  She also refused to perform unless the segregated audiences and faithfully gave lectures to black audiences about aviation.  Bessie’s ground-breaking achievements in flying were brought to live through her intenseness, seriousness, and authenticity to her craft.

 Shirley Chisolm (9)

Before launching her political career, Shirley Chisolm was a long time member of the League of Women Voters and the Bedford-Stuyvesant Political League.  In 1964, she ran and won a seat in New York State Assembly becoming the second African American woman to serve on the state legislature.  During her tenure, she focused on unemployment benefits and education initiatives.  In 1969, she became the first African American woman elected to Congress, and went on to serve seven terms at this post. Shirley’s election boosted the number of African Americans in the House from six to nine of the 435 House members making it the largest total up to that time.  In 1971, she joined the Education and Labor Committee to better serve her Brooklyn constituents.  She also hired an all-female staff for her office.  She was also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women’s Political Caucus.  In 1972, she became the first woman and first African American to run for president for the Democratic Party.  Shirley’s leadership and judiciousness depicted the courageous, allegiance and, trustworthiness and needed in democracy today. 

Ida B. Wells (10)

A racist encounter in 1884 would transform the then teacher, Ida B. Wells into a courageous journalist and women and civil rights activist.  After refused to give up her seat on a train in Memphis, Ida contributed her views about racial injustices as a newspaper columnist. Later, in 1889 at the age of 27, she turned to journalism full time as editor-in-chief and owner of the ‘Memphis Free Speech’, a major city newspaper.  That same year, the “Princess of the Press’ would be elected as Secretary of the Colored Press Association.  After the 1892 Memphis lynching of her dear friends, Ida transitioned into investigative journalism of lynching and the faulty accusations that underlay the mob punishments.  Later that year, to circumvent threats and continue her international anti-lynching campaign, she moved to New York City.  Ten thousand copies of her first article at the prominent black newspaper ‘New York Age’ were circulated throughout the country.  She also helped found the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  Ida’s anti-lynching campaign and other pivotal contributions to Civil Rights in the media could only be attributed to her strength and fearlessness.  

Madam C.J. Walker (J)

Madam C.J Walker was an inventor, entrepreneur, philanthropist, activist, and the first female African American millionaire.  Her experimentation with natural remedies for healthier hair evolved into selling hair and beauty products designed specifically for black women.  The Madame CJ Walker Manufacturing began as a small door-to-door and mail order business model that grew to a multi-city successful conglomerate operating out of Denver, Indianapolis, Harlem, and Pittsburgh.  To support the growing operating system, the business equipped and employed over 20,000 female sales agents nationwide.  Committed to helping other women achieve success, Madam CJ dutifully deployed seminars to educate on business and financial strategies.  A Jack-of-all-trades, Madam CJ Walker affirmed that “There is no royal flower-strewn path to success…for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard.” Madam CJ’s entrepreneurial endeavors and extravagant beauty pursuits were only made possible because of her wisdom and sharpness exhibited. 

Rosa Parks (Q)

A lifelong activist, Rosa Parks began her activism through her involvement with the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People and Montgomery Improvement Association.  Through this organizations, she lobbied on behalf of black voter registration, integration in schools and public spaces, women's rights, and victims of violence.  As Queen Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa’s infamous arrest on December 1, 1955 for refusing to give her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in Alabama ignited the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott.  The boycott, which was the first large scale demonstration against segregation in America, became an example for subsequent boycotts in during the era.  Rosa’s act of Civil Disobedience resulted and subsequent city-wide protest resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court ordering the city to integrate its public transportation.  In 1957 she moved to Detroit to continue her activism.  In Detroit, she worked as an aide to black U.S. Congressman John Conyers, where she focused on socioeconomic issues of the times such as welfare, educational disparities, job discrimination, and affordable housing.  Rosa’s leadership provided a timeless example to future generation of strength, intelligence, and grace. 

Coretta Scott King (K)

A gifted musician, vocalist, and violinist, Coretta Scott King commonly gave Freedom Concerts to benefit the Civil Rights Movement in addition to her speeches and legislative lobbying.  After her husband’s assassination in 1968, King intensified her energy and contributions to the movement of the 1960s and beyond.  In 1968, Coretta founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and developed programs to memorialize her husband’s dream of social equity.  For 14 years, she campaigned to establish Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a federal holiday; the holiday was successfully endorsed in 1983. In the 1980s, she also raised awareness and lobbied the White House to impose economic sanctions against South Africa for its apartheid practices.   Throughout the years, Coretta remained committed to initiatives, conferences, and speaking engagements that promoted racial equality and civil rights for women, children, and the LGBT community, economic justice, religious freedom, and environmental justice.  Coretta’s initiatives gave a sense of hopefulness and prosperity for the path to peace and freedom among all people and nations on earth.

Michelle Obama (A)

Committed to the public sector first in the city of Chicago and later on a national scale, in the early 1990s, Michelle Obama worked in public service positions in the Chicago Mayor’s Office and the Office of Planning and Development.  In 1993, she was also the founding executive director of Public Allies Chicago, an AmeriCorps national service program providing training to young adults pursuing careers in the public sector.  Nearly a decade later, Michelle would rise to the post of Vice President of the University of Chicago, Medical Center.  Upon her arrival to the White House in 2008, First Lady Michelle aced bipartisanship by garnering support from both Democrats and Republicans for her health and wellness initiatives.  In 2010, she founded the “Let’s Move” campaign to fight against the childhood obesity epidemic in America.  She has continuously been a strong proponent of civil and human rights for women, veterans, the LGBT community, immigrants, and persons with disabilities.  Michelle has exhibited astuteness in developing her health and public service initiatives, which have given society and communities renewed trust in the capabilities of the government. 

Maya Angelou (H)

Maya Angelou is accurately regarded as one of America’s most important writers and artists.  A benevolent heiress, Maya Angelou shared her life lessons with the world.  She published seven autobiographies, wrote countless original screenplays, and penned a myriad of sentimental poems.  A Pulitzer Prize nominee, Tony Award nominee, and Grammy Award winner, Maya displayed a deep passion for the fine and performing arts such as music, drama, and dance throughout her life.  And, her influence and reach had no bounds.  She was an accomplished professor, as well, teaching classes in philosophy, ethics, theology, theatre, and writing.  She was mentor and friend to media moguls and politicians, alike. She read her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration.  She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.  Maya’s resilient spirit allowed for her poetry and writings to be the theme music for life, love, and passion. 

 Angela Davis (H)

Angela Davis is a distinguished revolutionary scholar, professor, author and activist.  Captivated by the social justice agendas and movements of the 1960s, Angela joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and later the Black Panther Party and American Communist Party.  But, because of her politics, her freedom and livelihood were consistently challenged.  In 1969, then California Governor, Ronald Reagan, attempted to have her barred from teaching in the California State university system because of her membership in the American Communist Party.  Furthermore, in 1971, Angela was wrongly accused and put on trial for involvement in the 1970 attempted San Quentin prison escape of George Jackson, a well-known Black Panther.  She fought against these accusations and secured an acquittal in 1972.  And, in 1977, she officially regained her professorship in the state of California.  Over the next four decades she has been a professor in University of California network lecturing in philosophy, 'History of Consciousness', women and ethnic studies, African American studies.  An heiress of freedom, she has been committed to dismantling the prison industrial complex in the United States.  In 1997, she helped found Critical Resistance, an organization challenging mass incarceration.  She has authored numerous books and articles detailing the goals of anti-prison activism.   Angela’s leadership in the Black Power movement and other political and social movements symbolized a strength and dignity that female leaders of ensuing resistance movements would model.