Every February, we commemorate the accomplishments and sacrifices of notable figures in the Black Community. Black History Month is a time to educate and re-educate ourselves on significant milestones, from the abolishment of slavery to raising global awareness on police brutality. Names of most notable figures that come to mind include Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. However, there are also many remarkable women who, through their social activism, have and continue to pave the way for women's rights. This year, I would like to give recognition to a few of these remarkable women.
Rosa Parks is best remembered for refusing to give up a front seat on a segregated bus during the 1950s in Montgomery, Alabama. It is unknown whether Ms. Parks' stance was an act of protest or simply a personal reaction to stand her ground, but Ms. Parks' actions (and subsequent arrest) inspired the local Black Community, including Martin Luther King Jr., to protest bus segregation. As a result, a U.S. Supreme Court found bus segregation in Alabama unconstitutional in 1956.
Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells founded the first suffrage group for Black women in Chicago called the Alpha Suffrage Club. Even though Ms. Wells had the support of a number of white women advocating for a woman's right to vote, Ms. Wells and other Black women were banned from participating in the historical 1913 women's suffrage parade. Ms. Wells and her allies wrote letters to the event organizers to allow for the Alpha Suffrage Club's participation in the parade. They finally agreed to allow them to march in the back of the parade. Ms. Wells refused to march in the back; instead she stood side by side with her white co-suffragists. Ms. Wells will be remembered for her unwavering dedication not only to moving the Black Community's demand for civil rights forward, but also for her participation in the eventual legalization of women over 21 to vote in Illinois.
While pushing for recognition of basic civil rights for all citizens, Ernestine Eckstein also played a significant role in the advancement of LGBTQ rights. Ms. Eckstein was involved in a variety of civil rights groups including the NAACP, but will be remembered for being the first Black female to be a member (Vice President of the New York Chapter) of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian civil and political rights organization. Starting in the 1960s, Ms. Eckstein was one of the first Black women to argue that LGBTQ rights are civil rights.
Through the power of a five-minute poem recited for the world to witness, Amanda Gorman's words have, and will, continue to leave a graceful mark on this world. By way of art, Ms. Gorman illustrated varying degrees of social issues through persuading her audience on the importance of acceptance, resilience and looking within. Being the youngest poet to perform at a presidential inauguration, she has inspired women of colour to carry forward her message through their own work of art and activism.
To mark the end of Black History Month, I implore you to take time in learning more about Black History and the impact it has on where women are today. You can do so through reading books, embracing pop culture and art, and having open discussions on anti-racism.
Author: Farrah Rahman