Celebrating the Legacies of Black Women in History
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Celebrating the Legacies of Black Women in History

Here are 5 Black women in history to celebrate this Black History Month. Sojourner Truth, bell hooks, Wangari Maathai, Ijeoma Oluo and more, are highlighted for their impact and ability to inspire and empower women worldwide. Read on to learn more about these influential women.
Celebrating the Legacies of Black Women in History
In the journey towards equality and empowerment, the contributions of Black women have been invaluable. Their resilience, intellect, and passion have shaped the discourse around women's rights, women's health, and menstrual health.

Read on to learn more about Mary Beatrice Kenner, Sojourner Truth, bell hooks, Wangari Maathai, and Ijeoma Oluo, five Black women whose ideas and activism has shaped our culture over generations.

Mary Beatrice Kenner: An Inventive Force for Menstrual Health

Mary Beatrice Kenner was a precedent-setting inventor whose innovations significantly improved menstrual health. Born in 1912, Kenner developed a sanitary belt with a moisture-proof napkin pocket (1957). Kenner's invention addressed the limitations of traditional methods, providing a more practical and efficient solution for menstrual care. Her work laid the foundation for modern menstrual products and contributed to ongoing conversations about menstrual health, challenging societal taboos.

Sojourner Truth: A Powerful Voice for Women's Rights

Born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree, Sojourner Truth became a powerful abolitionist and women's rights advocate in the 19th century. Her famous speech, "Ain't I a Woman?," delivered at the 1851 Women's Rights Convention, challenged prevailing gender norms and highlighted the intersectionality of race and gender. Truth's unshakeable spirit and dedication to justice made her a key figure in the fight for both racial and gender equality.

Truth's legacy endures as a symbol of strength and resilience in the face of adversity. Her unwavering commitment laid the groundwork for future generations of activists and feminists, emphasizing the interconnectedness of struggles against racism and sexism.

Watch Kerry Washington deliver her famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” or check out the Sojourner Truth Project for other readings here.

bell hooks: A Literary Luminary Advocating for Women's Rights

bell hooks, the pen name for Gloria Jean Watkins, was a prolific writer, cultural critic, and feminist theorist. Her groundbreaking works, such as Ain't I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism and Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, have been instrumental in reshaping feminist discourse. hooks' intersectional approach to feminism emphasized the importance of recognizing the unique struggles faced by Black women in the fight for gender equality.

Through her eloquent and insightful writing, hooks challenged prevailing notions of feminism, encouraging a more inclusive and diverse movement. She called for solidarity among women of all backgrounds, stressing the need to address not only gender but also race and class disparities. hooks' contributions continue to inspire contemporary feminists, fostering a more nuanced understanding of women's rights and equality.

Read Five bell hooks Quotes to Carry with You While Trying to Create a More Equitable World here.

Wangari Maathai: Green Activism and Women's Empowerment

Wangari Maathai, a renowned environmentalist and political activist, was the founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. Maathai's work focused on environmental conservation, sustainable development, and women's empowerment. Through tree planting initiatives, Maathai not only contributed to environmental preservation but also empowered women economically, socially, and politically.

Maathai's commitment to the environment and women's empowerment earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, making her the first African woman to receive this prestigious award. Her legacy serves as a testament to the transformative power of grassroots movements, demonstrating how women can play a pivotal role in both environmental and social change.

Learn more about Green Belt Movement and how you can support them by planting a tree in Kenya.

Ijeoma Oluo: A Contemporary Force for Intersectional Feminism

Ijeoma Oluo is a contemporary author, speaker, and feminist whose work centers on the intersectionality of race, gender, and social justice. Through her book So You Want to Talk About Race, Oluo engages with complex issues, encouraging candid conversations about systemic racism and sexism. Her approach challenges individuals to confront uncomfortable truths, fostering a deeper understanding of the interconnected struggles faced by marginalized communities.

Oluo's contributions to intersectional feminism provide a modern perspective on women's rights, advocating for inclusivity and amplifying the voices of those often marginalized within feminist discourse.

Set aside some time to read Be A Revolution: How Everyday People are Fighting Oppression and Changing the World - and How You Can, Too, Ijeoma’s latest book.

The stories of Mary Beatrice Kenner, Sojourner Truth, bell hooks, Wangari Maathai, and Ijeoma Oluo continue to inspire us to challenge societal norms, advocate for inclusivity, and work towards greater gender and racial equity. And as Black women today continue to lead and shape the discourse, follow their lead by reading the books, sharing their speeches, and volunteering with initiatives. Together we can work towards a more equitable world.


  • Cstraight Media - http://www.cstraight.com. “Wangari Maathai | the Green Belt Movement.” Greenbeltmovement.org, 2011, www.greenbeltmovement.org/wangari-maathai.
  • “Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner | Lemelson.” Lemelson.mit.edu, lemelson.mit.edu/resources/mary-beatrice-davidson-kenner.
  • Michals, Debra. “Sojourner Truth.” National Women’s History Museum, Debra Michals, 2015, www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sojourner-truth.
  • History.com Editors. “Sojourner Truth.” HISTORY.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/black-history/sojourner-truth.
  • “Ijeoma Oluo | Writer, Speaker, Internet Yeller.” Ijeoma Oluo, www.ijeomaoluo.com/.
  • The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Bell Hooks | American Scholar.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019, www.britannica.com/biography/bell-hooks.
  • The Nobel Prize. “The Nobel Peace Prize 2004.” NobelPrize.org, 2011, www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2004/maathai/biographical/.