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Black History: Remembering The Women Who Came Before Us

For centuries, the black community has been a pillar of society's growth and development, but along the way, our impact, inventions, and voices were silenced, in hopes that our history would be forgotten.

There was fear that if we knew how vital we were, we’d come together and become the majority. However, you cannot keep greatness in the dark for too long before its light is exposed.

Year after year, we continue to discover how many individuals in the black community (especially black women) are the root of our progress in various industries and inventions that we still enjoy today. We think that being a black woman in America today is hard, well we ain’t got nothing on what those who’ve come before we endured. They fought to be the first, for education, and rights, and today we continue to fight because they were the example of what it meant to be the backbone of the home and community.

They may insult us with one month to celebrate our great leaders and how far we’ve come just to keep us quiet and happy, but we’re black every day, and every day we will celebrate! That celebration begins with highlighting a few of the black women, who because of their fierceness, we can live out our dreams today.

Let’s start with the one thing that can always bring people together, music! Whether it’s your favorite R&B classic or Gospel selection, jazz, and blues gave them their roots, and Miss Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan Gough) was at the heart of jazz in the 20th century. Billie is a great example of, “using what you have.” She was an inspiring singer, who hit the ground running at the tender age of 18 without any technical training in her craft and field. She knew what she wanted and went for it, and she learned what she didn’t know as she went. Billie and her soulful, captivating voice were an unstoppable force. She took chances in her career to raise awareness of lynching with her record, “Strange Fruit,” and when her label wouldn’t support her recording it, she still made a way to get the message heard. Though she had a great musical career, leaving behind memorable and heartfelt pieces such as, “God Bless the Child” and “Lady In Satin,” her life was short-lived at the age of 44. So the next time you’re listening to Gospel and R&B, remember those who set the foundation of giving the black culture its sound.

Not only were black women making waves in the music industry, but we were breaking physical barriers as athletes. Despite the racial barriers of the 1940s and 1950s, Althea Gibson became the first African American to play at Wimbledon, winning women’s singles and doubles in 1957. Though the odds were against her being a black woman, she did not allow her obstacles to discourage her from pursuing something she loved. She practiced and put herself out there until someone noticed her skills and talent, and that person was musician Buddy Walker. He would invite Althea to play on local courts, which eventually led to many wins, and got her in the door to compete in the U.S. National Championships (1950) and Wimbledon (1951). Her hard work and dedication landed her a sports scholarship at Florida A&M University, where she graduated in 1953. Gibson even stepped out of her comfort zone by trying golf for a short period before returning to tennis. She eventually went on to retire and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971.

As I’m sure the world has noticed by now, black women aren’t just beauty and body, but brains too. We pride ourselves on our knowledge and education because of how hard we’ve fought to have equal privilege as others. Nannie Helen Burroughs not only prospered in school, but she owned one. Due to the color of her skin, Burroughs was denied a teaching position in Washington D.C. That rejection was a pivotal moment for her to achieve something that no one believed could get done. Nannie delivered a proposal to open a school for women and girls to the National Baptist Convention. Though they granted her request for six acres of land, she still had the issue of the lack of funds to get the school up and running. Instead of depending on white sponsors, she won the support of her community, and in 1909 she opened the National Training School for Women and Girls. offered a unique combination of educational opportunities for African-American young women and girls. The school provided the quality of high school and community college, religious instruction, and training in domestic arts and vocations. Her school went from being held in a farmhouse to a building named The Trade Hall. However, the school was closed in 2006 and is now a National Historic Landmark. Outside of her dedication to education, Burroughs was an activist for the black community and women in general. She, amongst others, fought for the integration of women in the workplace and to achieve the right to vote.

Speaking of the right to vote, Constance Baker Motley accomplished a few first as an African-American woman in the legal system. Motley was the first Black woman to attend Columbia Law School, the first female to become an attorney at Legal Defense Fund (LDF), and the first African-American woman elected to the New York State Senate. With a bold and fearless approach, Constance managed to fight for desegregation in the south, successfully end segregation in Memphis and Birmingham, Alabama restaurants, and defended the right of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s march in Albany, Georgia. She was the type of lawyer that put her life on the line to see justice and change made for the black community’s rights and education. Her legacy in the justice system has inspired those that have come behind her to continue to bring forth change in today’s society.

I think we can all take notes from these powerful and influential women that consistency and resilience bring forth change. So, the next time you feel like giving up, or someone tries to crush your dreams, remember the strength of the women that came before us and let it inspire you to create a legacy of your own.

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