Random Five: Young Black Women Who Changed the World

In honor of the end of Black History Month and the beginning of Women’s History Month, today’s Random Five spotlights five young women you’ve probably never read about in any history textbook. All of them stared down racial and gender discrimination to live their lives out loud – and changed American history in the process.

Ruby Bridges (1954 – )

Ruby BridgesOn November 14th, 1960, six-year old Ruby Bridges became the face of integration after her parents made the brave decision to risk the family’s safety to send her to a better school. Angry crowds yelled insults and pelted Ruby and her mother with objects as federal marshals escorted them into William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans for Ruby’s first day of first grade. Many parents withdrew their children because of integration and only one teacher, a Boston native, was willing to teach Ruby. She was a class of one for the entire school year; she ate lunch alone and her teacher ran around the room with her for recess. When Ruby grew up she founded the Ruby Bridges Foundation that educates school children on ending racism.

Alice Coachman (1926 – )

Alice Coachman
In 1948, at age 25, Alice Coachman became the first black woman to win a gold medal at the Olympics. She obliterated the existing high jump record with that win. A native of Alabama, she also broke high school and collegiate records in the high jump and was the first black student of either gender to be named to five All-American teams. After returning home from the Olympics she became the first African American female athlete to score endorsement deals from companies. She was named one of the 100 greatest athletes of all time at a ceremony at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta.

Sarah Remond (1826 – 1894)

Sarah Remond
Sarah Remond was an African-American abolitionist who made her first speech against slavery when she was just sixteen. She was born free in Salem, Massachusetts and devoted most of her life to organizing against slavery and for women’s rights. At the age of 27 she attempted to sit in the “whites only” section during an opera at Boston’s Howard Athenaeum. After an angry policeman shoved her down the stairs she sued the city for damages and won $500 from an all-male, all-white jury. After her case drew national attention, she was hired by the American Anti Slavery Society to travel across American and Europe and give speeches on abolition.

Bessie Coleman (1892 – 1926)

Bessie Coleman
Bessie Coleman, or “Brave Bessie,” was the first licensed African-American pilot. Coleman attended college in Oklahoma, but had to quit because of financial difficulties. She moved to Chicago and worked as a manicurist and successfully operated a chili parlor. However, Coleman’s dream was to learn to fly. When no American school would accept African Americans, she traveled to France to attend Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, where she became the first licensed black pilot in the world. Flying army surplus aircraft left over from WWI, she earned her nickname “Brave Bessie” by performing daredevil stunts. While doing air shows she gave lectures urging young black students to become pilots.

Mae Jemison (1956- )

Mae C. Jemison
On September 12, 1992, Mae C. Jemison of Chicago, Illinois became the first black woman to travel into outer space on NASA Mission STS-47 aboard the Endeavour. Before joining NASA in 1987, she received her bachelors in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University and her doctorate degree in medicine from Cornell University. On Mission STS-47, Jemison served as a Science Mission Specialist on the Space Lab J mission. The laboratory held round-the-clock experiments that have added to fundamental knowledge about the behavior of crystals, fluids and human exposure to a weightless environment.

  1. Asha Tarry

    It’s a pleasure to see you give light to under-discussed, under-admired women–African American women–during Women’s History Month. Being a woman in American is tough enough, but being a woman of color is tougher. Women of color are looked over on a regular basis beyond often times their good looks, shapely figures and confident attitudes and approaches to life’s challenges. This time, you showed that we are worth mentioning and are not forgotten. You informed and/or reminded the public about our contributiions in the beginning and currently. I applaud you Shelby. I look forward to seeing more accomplishments of black and brown women on your site and I hope it inspires others to follow suite.

    Join in on our conversations about women, youth and communities of color at–thecollectivea.blogspot.com



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