Bettmann / Contributor/ Getty Images History books are filled with stories about impactful men of color like Malcolm X, Fredrick Douglas, and Martin Luther King Jr. There are many black women who have made significant contributions as well, but their stories are often not taught in schools. Bessie Coleman was the first African-American woman [...]
Bettmann / Contributor/ Getty Images
History books are filled with stories about impactful men of color like Malcolm X, Fredrick Douglas, and Martin Luther King Jr. There are many black women who have made significant contributions as well, but their stories are often not taught in schools. Bessie Coleman was the first African-American woman to get her pilot’s license. Althea Gibson broke barriers in tennis.
When you think about important figures in black history, names like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass likely come to mind. But there’s no denying that black women have played a powerful and important role in history, though you may not hear their stories as often. Black women have been breaking down barriers and shattering stereotypes in the fields of education, sports, politics, and more for generations.
Below, we’ve listed some black women from history that you may not have learned about in school, but should know more about.
Bessie Coleman was the first African-American woman to hold a pilot’s license. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
She learned French and was eventually accepted at a flight school in France. In 1921, Coleman graduated from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and secured her place in history as the first African-American woman to receive a pilot’s license, though some have reported she was the first African-American person period to receive such a license.
She was also the first Native-American woman to do so. (Her father, George Coleman, was Native American and black.)
When she returned to the United States, she used her knowledge to become a stunt pilot and perform at air shows. In 1922, Coleman became the first African-American woman to make a public flight. Coleman entertained audiences with her aerial stunts until her death in 1926, from an accident during a rehearsal for an aerial show.
Wilma Rudolph ran off with three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics. Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Rudolph made history at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, as the first American woman to win three track-and-field gold medals in a single Olympic games. Rudolph earned her medals in the 100m, 200m, and 4X100m relay events.
Shirley Chisholm made political history as the first black woman elected to the US Congress. Pictorial Parade/Getty Images
Educator and civil rights advocate, Shirley Chisholm dedicated her life to helping the people in her community. In 1968, Chisholm was elected to represent her Brooklyn district in the United States House of Representatives, becoming the first black woman to serve in US Congress. Chisholm served seven terms in the House, where she was a dedicated advocate for education and employment opportunities for people of color.
In 1972, Chisholm sought the Democratic nomination for president and became the first black woman to seek a major political party’s nomination in a presidential campaign. She ultimately lost the democratic nomination to Sen. George McGovern who then lost the presidency to President Richard Nixon.
But her impact is still being felt in 2019. When Sen. Kamala Harris announced her run for president earlier this year, many took note that her logo and campaign materials seemed to pay tribute to Chisolm’s.
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