Posted by AfroElle On 9:59 PM
March is National Women’s History Month in the United States. The theme for 2011 is “Our History is Our Strength”, allowing us to examine and revisit our roots. In ancient African civilizations, women were viewed as a prominent figures in the family, social and leadership structures. Women were creators of royal dynasties, led armies and ruled nations. These women were self-determined and fearless, yet were still seen as loving, beautiful Goddesses, and the givers of life. Our sisters have continued to contribute in every aspect of human existence from politics, economics, labor, religion, military, art, science, education, and entertainment. Through their accomplishments, they have nurtured and allowed us to dream bigger than we ever have before. It is important that we take time to honor these women who have paved the way, opened doors of opportunity, and helped to shape our lives and nations. In celebration of these pioneering women, I have compiled a list of the ten inspiring black women everyone should know. Please continue the conversation and offer your comments on black women who have inspired you to make your own history!
Nefertiti, meaning “the beautiful one has arrived”, is one of the most well known queens of Egypt. She ruled alongside Akhenaton in the 18th dynasty. Her bust is the most copied work of ancient Egypt. She is known for her iconic beauty and often regarded by historians as the most beautiful woman in the world. Nefertiti serves an important symbol reminding us all to take pride and embrace our Africaness.
Josephine Baker is an American dancer, singer, and entertainer who expatriated to France. Her international fame lasted for over five decades. She is known for her provocative image, such as performing with just a string of bananas around her waist while dancing to African drums. Baker served as an intelligence liaison for the French Resistance and revered for her role in the Civil Rights Movement.
Madam C.J. Walker is America’s first black female millionaire. She created a line of hair care products that revolutionized how black woman cared for their tresses. She employed thousands of African American women and trained them on her methodology, marketing, and sales. She was a philanthropist, giving back to the community, providing scholarships, and was politically involved in the NAACP’s anti-lynching campaign.
Miriam Makeba, or ‘Mama Afrika’ as she is affectionately called, is a South African singer and political activist. Makeba was the first artist that internationally popularized African music. She was also married to Black Panther, SNCC leader, and Civil Rights Activist Stokely Carmicheal. Makeba vehemently spoke out against the racist system of Apartheid in South Africa. After her testimony on Apartheid before the United Nations, her South African passport was revoked. Makeba had nine passports throughout her life and was an honorary citizenship of ten countries.
Wangari Maathai is the first African woman to win The Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace. In 1977, she founded The Greenbelt Movement to mobilize community consciousness for self-determination, equity, improved livelihoods and security, and environmental conservation. Maathai has been educated in her native country of Kenya, the United States, and Germany.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is the first black woman elected as head of state in an African nation. Johnson-Sirleaf became the 24th President of Liberia in 2006. Her administration has made advocating and empowering Liberian woman to take part in all areas of national life a priority. Newsweek listed her as the ten best leaders in the world in 2010 and Time magazine acknowledged her among the top ten female leaders.
Nina Simone is an American jazz and blues singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist. Her catalog consists of over 40 albums throughout the tenure of her career. She has influenced music, as we know it today. Simone lived in the Barbados, Switzerland, France, Liberia, Trinidad, Britain, and France. Simone's ashes were scattered in several African countries.
Michelle Obama is the first African American First Lady of the United States. Obama studied sociology and African-American studies at Princeton University. Afterwards in 1988 she graduated from Harvard Law School. Obama juggles motherhood, family, administration programs such as Let’s Move!, and advocating for military families with intellect, style and grace.
Oprah Winfrey is an American talk show host, actor, producer, and philanthropist. She is best known for The Oprah Winfrey Show which is syndicated in more than 132 countries. The show has received 25 Emmy Awards, 6 of them for best host and is the most popular talk show ever. In 1996 Time magazine named Winfrey one the 25 most influential people in the world. In 2007 she built The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls opening its doors in South Africa.
Mae Jemison is an American astronaut, physician, and professor, and the first African American woman to enter space in1992. Jemison previously joined the Peace Corps in 1983 and worked as a medical officer in West African until 1985. After retiring from NASA, Jemison started her own constancy company called The Jemison Group, Inc., whose projects include a satellite based telecommunication system to improve health care delivery in West Africa.
Amani Bush is the Founder and Creative Director of Amani at Home, an ethnic décor and home furnishings company based in Washington, DC. Amani specializes in creating African-inspired spaces she refers to “Afropolitan” home décor. Amani is a member of the American Society of Interior Designers and holds a certificate in African American Studies. In addition, she is the Executive Director of Roots to Freedom, a nonprofit that promotes the study of African and African Diaspora life, history, and culture through education. In her spare time she enjoys international travel, decorating her home, and her newest pastime of cooking ethnic cuisine.
For more information on Amani's work follow her on Twitter, visit her shop or read her blog.