Black Female Figures and Activists
February is Black History Month, which aims to shed light on untold stories in Black history and educate people on topics beyond just slavery and racism. There are a multitude of notable Black female figures – and activists – who have played a huge role in advocating for human rights and bringing diversity to different industries. Below are just a few examples of Black women who have changed society for the better.
Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune was one of the first Black educators, civil and women’s rights leaders and government officials in the 20th century. She was an advisor to former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and an advocate of African-Americans in government. Bethune became a teacher before she opened her own boarding school in 1904. The school evolved into a college and it issued its first degrees in 1943. Bethune was passionate about racial and gender equality and founded many organizations pushing for voter registration for women. She was the president of both the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs and the National Council of Negro Women and the vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons. One of her biggest accomplishments is becoming the highest ranking African American woman in government. Until 1944, Roosevelt named Bethune was the director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration.
Misty Copeland became the first Black principal ballerina at the American Ballet Theater in 2015. She is a champion of diversity in the ballet industry – an industry that is dominated by Caucasians. Although Copeland was continuously told to make efforts to lighten her skin throughout her career as a ballerina in order to match the ballet blanc, she never obliged and was proud in her own skin color. Copeland wants to represent women of color in the industry and is influenced by Raven Wilkinson, one of the first African American dancers to perform in a major ballet company. She has recently started her own production company, in which she aims to give more visibility to African American creatives.
Tarana Burke is one of the founders of the #MeToo movement, which took off in 2006 as a social movement against sexual abuse and assault towards women, especially in the workplace. As a survivor, Burke coined the phrase and hashtag on Myspace and it is now used by other survivors and people standing in solidarity with victims. The phrase aims to empower women through empathy via strength in numbers and was used to share experiences of rape and sexual assault, particularly on social media. Burke now speaks at rallies about the movement and continues to advocate for victims of sexual assault. The #MeToo movement is now international and has been translated into dozens of other languages.