Black women over the decades have led the way in fields from sports to politics to art, however, many of their accomplishments have remained unsung. Many Black women have not only become successful in their own right but are doing the work to help others come up behind them. Despite being one of the most ambitious and educated groups in the U.S., many Black women still struggle to be recognized for their work and contributions. For Black History Month, it's important to celebrate Black women who have broken new ground and pushed for equality for their communities.
Here are eight Black women leaders past and present that everyone should know:
Thasunda Brown Duckett — Fortune 500 CEO
A powerhouse of corporate America, Thasunda Brown Ducket
t has been run some of the most respected companies in the U.S.. Most recently she was appointed CEO of Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA), making her one of the first Black women to head a Fortune 500 company.
Simone Biles — Top Gymnast
Simone Biles, has taken the Summer Olympics
by storm. In 2013, Biles became the first Black all-around world champion gymnast and in 2016 the second Black woman to claim the Olympic gold meal in the all-around. She is currently one of the most decorated female gymnasts and holds the record for the most world medals, 25 in all with 19 of them gold.
Shirley Chisholm — Pioneering Lawmaker
In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. Running under the slogan "Unbought and unbossed," Chisholm in her campaign appealed directly to women and people of color. In 1972, she was the first Black candidate to run for a major-party nomination for president. She also helped to create the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children program (WIC), which helps low income women and children have access to healthy food to this day.
Mae Jemison — Astronaut and Scientist
In 1992, Mae Jemison made history by becoming the first Black woman to travel to space. As part of the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, Jemison worked as a science mission specialist. After six years as an astronaut, she left NASA to work on a variety of projects, including the Jemison Group, a company that helps advance the causes of science, technology and social change, and the 100 Year Starship project, which is working to ensure that humans can travel to another star within the next 100 years.
Madam C.J. Walker — Beauty Tycoon
Haircare industry tycoon Madam C.J. Walker was the first Black female millionaire in the U.S.. Born the first free child of enslaved parents and orphaned at a young age, Walker nevertheless rose to prominence in the early 20th century by creating and selling her own line of hair care products. Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer executive produced and starred in Self Made
, a limited series inspired by Walker's life.
Dr. Marcia Chatelain — Historian and Scholar
Dr. Marcia Chatelain
is a professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and a leading scholar in her field. She is best known outside of academia for the curation of the #FurgusonSyllabus, an open reading list about race, civil rights and policing in America for which the Chronicle of Higher Education named her a Top Influencer in Higher Education.
Cicely Tyson — Groundbreaking Actress
For more than five decades, actress Cicely Tyson inspired and entertained as one of the preeminent Black performers in the U.S.. Tyson, who died in 2021 at age 96, was known for her refusal to take roles that stereotyped Black people even at the beginning of her award-winning career Her heartfelt portrayals of Black life in theater, TV and film, as well as her activism, earned her a Presidential Metal of Freedom in 2016.
Kara Walker — 'Genius' Artist
Visual artist Kara Walke
r uses her talent to create sculptures, silhouettes, watercolors and other unique materials to explore themes of race, gender, violence and the places where these issues intersect. She is one of the youngest artists ever to receive the prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellowship, more commonly known as a "genius grant."
Learn More About Black History, Community
Did you know?
Black women make 40% less than white men for the same job, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. They also comprise fewer than 5 percent of people in C-suite positions in corporate America, white only four of those heading up Fortune 500 companies.