20 Notable Black Women in History You Should Know

Black History is World History. When we talk about #BlackGirlMagic we are recognizing and celebrating the beauty and power of Black women around the world. While this list is truly endless, Amplify Africa has come up with 20 Black women who have made an impact on this world that you need to know more about!

1. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Liberian politician and economist Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first elected female Head of State in Africa. She served as President of Liberia from 2006 to 2018. The Harvard educated leader was one of three Nobel Peace Prize recipients in 2011 for her work to further women’s rights. As President, she worked to promote peace, reconciliation, and social and economic development.

2. Taytu Betul

Taytu Betul (1851-1918) was a formidable Queen and Empress of Ethiopia. She was the wife of Emperor Menelik II and an intelligent political figure. Her commitment to resist imperialism in her country led her to oppose any negotiations that would result in the loss of Ethiopian territory. She created the plan which led to Ethiopian victory at Mekelle, and was a key figure in the Battle of Adwa in 1896 in which Ethiopia defeated Italian forces and successfully fought off colonialism. 

3. Women Soldiers of Dahomey

The Dahomey Amazons were a feared but admired elite group of woman warriors in the Dahomey Kingdom in the 18th century. Recruited as teenagers, these women soldiers lived in the royal palace isolated from society. They lived their lives devoted to training, fighting wars of conquest, and protecting the King. The Dahomey women soldiers played a big role in contributing to the military power of the kingdom.

4. Hudu Shaarawi

Huda Shaarawi (1879-1947) was a feminist leader and nationalist in Egypt known for speaking up for women issues and participating in Egypt’s nationalist struggle. Shaarawi was responsible for assisting in organizing a women’s social service organization and the Intellectual Association of Egyptian Women in 1909. In 1923, she established the Egyptian Feminist Union and was also the founding President of the Arab Feminist Union. She spoke widely on women’s issues throughout the Arab world and Europe.

5. Gisèle Rabesahala

Gisèle Rabesahala (1929-2011) was a celebrated Malagasy female politician who committed her life to her country’s independence, human rights and the freedom of people. She was the first Malagasy woman to be elected as a municipal councilor, political party leader, and to be appointed minister. Rabesahala also founded Imongo Vaovao newspaper. On an international level she is among the historical figures who were at the forefront of development, working tirelessly for the freedom of the people of Madagascar and the progress of humanity.

6. Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba (1932-2008) was a Grammy award winning musician and apartheid activist who openly opposed South Africa’s apartheid regime. The singer, who became known as Mama Afrika, was one of the world’s most prominent African performers in the 20th century. Her activism led to the loss of her citizenship and she lived in exile for three decades after, eventually settling in Guinea. In 1963 and 1971 she spoke at the United Nations with the support of Guinea. This led the Bedford Stuyvesant Community of New York City to name

her “Woman of the Century.”

7. Yaa Asantewaa, Queen Mother of the Edweso Tribe

Yaa Asantewaa, the Queen Mother of the Edweso (Ejisu) tribe, was an influential Ashanti Queen at the beginning of the 20th century. When the Ashanti people began to rebel against the British presence, the British retaliated by capturing and exiling their King and other Ashanti leaders to the Seychelles Islands. Asantewaa, however, held her ground and rallied her troops. She led an army of thousands against British colonial forces in 1900 during the Yaa Asantewaa War for Independence.

8. Njinga Mbandi, Queen of Ndongo and Matamba

Njinga Mbandi (1581-1663), Queen of Ndongo and Matamba, was a defining figure in the history of 17th century Angola. A diplomat, skillful negotiator, and fierce tactician, Njinga encouraged her people to resist Portugal’s colonial influences until her death in 1663.

9. Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm made political history in the United States as the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. She was an educator and civil rights advocate who was committed to helping people in her community. In her 1968 win, Chisholm defeated a male civil rights activist to represent her Brooklyn district. She served seven terms in the House where she advocated for education and employment opportunities for people of color. In 1972, she went after the Democratic nomination for President, becoming the first Black woman to seek a major political party’s nomination in a Presidential campaign.

10. Queen Nanny of the Maroons

Born in 1686 in present day Ghana, Queen Nanny was sent as a slave to Jamaica. She escaped from her plantation to Jamaica’s Blue Mountain region where she founded Nanny Town, a free village for Maroons. There she became leader of the Maroons, a cultural mix of African slaves and indigenous Arawak natives who didn’t submit to British colonization. She rose to become a leader, warrior, and spiritual advisor known as a powerful Obeah practitioner of folk magic and religion. It is believed that she was responsible for leading attacks against British troops and freeing an estimated 1,000 slaves. Queen Nanny has been upheld as a figure of strength and rebellion in Jamaica, recognized as the country’s only female National Hero.

11. Olive Morris

While Olive Morris only lived to the age of 27, she left a huge mark on the United Kingdom. Morris was a feminist, community leader, and political activist. She co-founded the Organization of Women of African and Asian Descent and Brixton Black Women’s Group, among many other community organizations. She also served as an integral part of Britain’s Black Panther Party. Morris’ legacy included fighting against police brutality, gender-based violence, and racial inequality.

12. Amina Sukhera

Amina Sukhera was a Hausa Muslim warrior queen of the royal family of Zazzau in present day northern Nigeria. Oral history depicts Amina as a powerful woman who expanded Zazzau territory with her strong battle skills and strategic military engagements. She also introduced the cultivation of kola nuts in her region which in turn developed farming and agriculture.

13. Luiza Mahin

Luiza Mahin was an Afro-Brazilian freedom fighter in the 19th century. A natural born leader, she became involved in revolts and uprisings of slaves in the Brazilian province of Bahia. She used her profession as a street vendor to distribute messages and leaflets for the resistance. She played an integral role in the “Revolta dos Males” and “Sabina” slave rebellions.

14. Ilen Embet

Ilen Embet was considered to be one of the most emancipated women of the 19th century in her region Marab Mallash, a border area between Eritrea and Ethiopia. She was given in marriage to Ayte Selomon who reigned over the Asmara highlands. Embet entered politics to avenge her husband’s military defeats, leading the men into battle herself. After establishing an alliance with the sovereign Tigray (today a part of Ethiopia), she was named Governor of the Asmara region. In the late 1840s she stepped down to become a nun.

15. Madam CJ Walker

Madam C.J. Walker was the first Black woman millionaire in America who made her fortune from her homemade hair care products catered to Black women. A child of slaves, she was inspired to create hair products after her own experiences with hair loss. Walker was a talented entrepreneur who built her business empire first from selling her products directly to Black women, then employing “beauty culturalists” to hand-sell for her. The self-made millionaire used her fortune to fund scholarships for women at the Tuskegee Institute and donated significant amounts of her wealth to the NAACP, the Black YMCA and other charities.

16. Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan scholar, environmental activist, and Nobel Peace Prize awardee. She founded the trailblazing Green Belt Movement in 1977 which encouraged people, women in particular, to plant trees to combat environmental degradation. She came to link environmental responsibility to political struggles of governance, human rights and peace.

17. Bibi Titi Mohamed

Bibi Titi Mohamed, born into a Muslim merchant family, entered politics in 1955. She was the first female member of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). Mohamed was one of the leaders of the Tanzanian nationalist movement. She helped to recruit more than six thousand women for the TANU through her presence in community dancing groups in Dar es Salaam as a singer and musician. She served as the President of the National Organization of Women’s Groups, Umoja Wa Wanawake Wa Tanzania.

18. Rose Ziba Chibambo

Rose Ziba Chibambo was an anti-colonial Malawian militant. She created the Nyasaland Women’s League in the 1950s with the goal to support women’s issues and raise their awareness of political issues. In 1959 she was arrested for her activities and imprisoned for a year. When Malawi achieved independence in 1964, she was elected Member of Parliament and appointed as Junior Minister. However, when an internal conflict took place within the Banda government, she was forced into exile and fled with her husband to Zambia where they lived for 30 years.

19. Mariama Ba

Mariama Ba belonged to the first generation of Senegalese women who attended French school during the interwar period. She was a pioneer in both the domain of literature and the women’s movement. Her first novel denounced polygamy and confronted the problems of the caste system. Throughout her life she educated, campaigned and wrote to raise women’s awareness and promote their rights.

20. Aoua Keita

Aoua Keita was an award winning Malian independence activist and writer. In 1923 she was admitted into the first girls’ school and later went on to get a diploma in midwifery. She was a member of the African Democratic Rally and in 1959 she became a member of Parliament. Keita was the first woman in French-speaking Africa to be elected to the assembly governing her country.

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