Black Women Activists: The Most Influential Black Women In History

Konstantina Antoniadou
6 min readFeb 6, 2022
Delores Henderson, Joyce Lee, Mary Ann Carlton, Joyce Means and Paula Hill / NMAAHC, gift of the Pirkle Jones Foundation, ©2011 Pirkle Jones Foundation

Amidst the chaos of the past two years, more and more people are finally beginning to face the full extent of systemic racism. Black women in history, however, are evidently well-versed in the realm of activism, empowerment, racism, and sexism — sans the black square photos on IG. Black Women activists over the ages sparked protests, marches, vigils while taking the much-deserved title of Black female role models we should all be admiring.

Long before Michelle Obama or Serena Williams was on a mission to break stereotypes, the first influential Black women in history aspire to change, shaping society what it is today. There is ample evidence that by remembering significant Black figures and educating ourselves on Black women activists, future generations will get the opportunity to understand the collective and protracted struggle we all had to face. In the words of the late writer Albert Murray used to say when referring to our complex cultural legacy, “reject the folklore of white supremacy and the fakelore of Black pathology.

Important Black women activists in history

From the origins of anti-rape activism in the U.S, and important Black women activists in the United States who championed gender equity to one of the most widely recognized abolitionists and women’s rights speeches in American history, ahead is a list of the most significant female Black figures we all need to know.

Anti-rape activism

Black women students at the State Normal School in South Carolina, 1874 / University of South Carolina Archives

As Christina Sharpe, author of In The Wake: On Blackness and Being, pointed out, Black women, have always looked out for each other. That’s evident when we look back to the origins of anti-rape activism in the U.S.

In 1866, a group of influential Black women in history testified before Congress about their tremendous gang-raped by white men while the Memphis Riot was in full mode. The offenders were not punished, leading to brave activists like Fannie Barrier Williams and Ida B. to establish and participate in an array of campaigns to end sexual violence against Black women.