Black Women Who Changed the World
By Lyndia Grant
Black History Month was founded by Carter G. Woodson. It began as "Negro History Week" but was extended to include the entire month of February in 1976. Not very long ago is it? Yet here we are in 2013, shocked to see how far we've come. We're rejoicing that a man of color and his family now reside in the White House. This week though, I write about five African-American women, and next week, another five will be featured.
Sojourner Truth: She once said, "Religion without humanity is very poor human stuff." Sojourner was born into slavery with the name Isabella Baumfree. She changed her name after escaping from her owner and became a Christian preacher while living with a family in New York. After the state's Emancipation Act was passed, she became a vehement and vocal supporter of abolition and women's rights. She traveled the country giving speeches, including a famous one entitled, Ain't I a Woman? The speech emphasized the strength and power of women and the need for equality between the sexes.
Harriet Tubman: She believed she had been called by God to help her people. Like Sojourner, Harriet was born into slavery and found a means of escape with the help of her abolitionist neighbors. In 1849, she fled her slave life in Maryland and found respite in Philadelphia. There she formulated a plan to liberate the rest of her family by way of the Underground Railroad, a system that involved moving slaves from one safe house to another under rigid secrecy; freeing more than 300 slaves throughout the years, taking them as far as Canada and helping them find safe jobs.
Maya Angelo: Before she was celebrated for her poems and autobiographical texts like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya was a nightclub singer and dancer who toured Europe. She settled in New York and became part of the burgeoning black writing scene in Harlem. After moving to Ghana to teach at the University of Ghana's School of Music and Drama; she returned to the U.S. and was involved with the Civil Rights Movement, working closely with Martin Luther King Jr. She continues to inspire others and promote change through her writings and public speaking engagements. She once said ... "I realized that I didn't get here by myself. I am a child of God and that's a blessing and because I have the blessing of God and the knowledge."
Oprah Winfrey: Early in her career, Oprah was the protégée of Maya Angelou; they are open about their close bond. Now, Oprah is one of the richest and most powerful people in America. She uses her resources and celebrity to enact positive change in communities worldwide, such as fostering literacy through her book club, building a school in Africa, encouraging others to perform good deeds, she gives millions of dollars to colleges for scholarships for the needy; and now runs her own television network, entitled OWN for the Oprah Winfrey Network. Oprah's favorite scripture, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Mary McLeod Bethune: In 1906, a teacher named Mary Bethune built the Daytona Literacy and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls in Florida. Initially a one-woman operation, she enlisted the help of a few community members and sold baked goods to help raise funds for supplies and maintenance. After getting funding from one of the founders of Proctor and Gamble, the school joined forces with an all-boys school in Jacksonville and it became the Bethune-Cookman College. Later, she went on to found the National Council of Negro Women and worked with Franklin Delano Roosevelt on minority issues and youth policies. In her last will and testament, she wrote: "Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without it, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible."