The Fiercest Advocates

“In the end, anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing—anti-humanism.” Shirley Chisholm

Before, during and since 1968, black women have been, and continue to be, the fiercest and first champions of intersectional feminism, racial justice, economic equality, reproductive health and justice, immigration, and other social justice movement work. Yet their contributions to these movements too often go unnoticed, unattributed and unrecognized.

It was in 1968 that Shirley Chisholm made history by becoming the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress. An even lesser known fact is Chisholm would go on to become the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1972, long before Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Unfortunately, even within movements to achieve social change and equity, if you’re not white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied and encompassing other privileged social identities, your pursuits of justice, your legacy, and your life can be erased. Erasure and life at the intersection is a reality that Black women in every facet of our society know all too well.

With that said, when we celebrate Black women only for their labor, we are not being champions for their liberation, achievements, or history. Instead, we are conflating their labor with their worth—which is dangerous. It’s imperative that we not do this if we are to center Black women and see them as both heroes and humans. Let us remember and honor:

  • Jo Ann Robinson. Key organizer of the historic 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott.
  • Dorothy Height. Key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington and founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus.
  • Fannie Lou Hamer. Civil Rights Movement leader and community organizer who led voter registration drives in the 1960s.
  • Representative Barbara Jordan. First Black woman to be elected to Congress from Texas after Reconstruction, best known for her opening statement during Nixon’s impeachment hearings in 1974.
  • Tarana Burke. Creator of the #MeToo Campaign in 2006 and Senior Director at Girls for Gender Equity.
  • Bree Newsome. Filmmaker, musician, speaker and activist, most notably known for removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state house grounds in 2015.
  • Brittany Packnett. Black Lives Matter activist and co-founder of Campaign Zero, an initiative dedicated to ending police violence.
  • June Jordan. Highly-acclaimed poet, playwright and essayist, known for her commitment to human rights.

The 50th anniversary of 1968 is not only a rallying cry but an urgent reminder that we need to meaningfully support Black women’s work. When you think about Black achievement during Black History Month and beyond, think Dorothy Height. When you’re designing your next Women’s March protest sign, think Tarana Burke. When you consider how we can accelerate the way forward to Black liberation around the world, think Black women. We’ve seen time and time again, when we pay black women, vote for black women and lift up black women, change happens.