Special Report

36 Black Women Who Changed American History

To compile a list of 33 Black women who have changed American history, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a set of images of “African-American Women Changemakers” — including educators, activists, artists, and writers — assembled by the Library of Congress.

If there is one takeaway from the list, it is the power of will. Each of these women demonstrated a deep belief in themselves and their quest for achievement. Racist and sexist obstacles were not going to stand in their way. (These are the most segregated cities in America.)

The paths they took to success were varied. Althea Gibson faced down racism to become the first African-American, male or female, to win a Grand Slam event in tennis. Singers Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday put American music on a new trajectory in the 20th century. 

Shirley Chisolm and Barbara Jordan were pathfinders in politics. (These are the 19 of the most influential civil rights leaders of the 21st century.)

Besides suffering the indignity of racial bias, many on this list suffered physical harm as well. Activists such as Fannie Lou Hamer were beaten for sitting in a whites-only section of a bus station restaurant. Journalist Ida B. Wells — one of several women on the list who were born into slavery during the Civil War — wrote stories about lynching in the South and her stories endangered her life.

Click here to learn about 36 Black women who changed American history

Many know the story of Harriett Tubman and her tireless work to bring slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad or of Rosa Parks and her principled defiance of segregated-bus rules in Alabama. But you might not know about Phillis Wheatley, who overcame enslavement in 18th-century Boston to become a poet celebrated in both New England and England itself, or operatic soprano Sissieretta Jones, who sang in six continents.

The stories of all these women point to a uniquely American experience of perseverance and resilience in the face of overwhelming odds.

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