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14 Inspiring African-American Women Fighters For Civil Rights and Gender Equality

In honor of Black History Month, we've put together a list of just a few of the countless African-American women who have led the struggle for civil rights and gender equality. There are so many more people not on this list who fight and who have fought for equality, and today and every day we are thankful for their work, for their passion, and for their leadership.

Angela Davis

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Angela Davis started her political activism in Birmingham, Alabama. She learned about racial prejudice at a young age - as a teenager, she organized interracial study groups which were broken up by police. She's widely known as a passionate activist for gender equality, civil rights, and prisoners' rights - she is a powerful critic of racism in the criminal justice system. She is the author of Women, Race and Class and Are Prisons Obsolete? and is currently a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

 Florynce Kennedy

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Florynce Kennedy is a civil rights attorney, political activist, and pioneer in second-wave feminism. She helped found the Women's Political Caucus and the National Black Feminist Organization, and was an orginial member of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Kennedy also founded the Feminist Party, which nominated Shirley Chisolm (also on this list!) for President. In 1969, Florynce Kennedy organized feminist lawyers to challenge the constitutionality of New York state's laws outlawing abortion, and the laws were overturned in 1970.  That's right - she was part of the amazing team that made sure women have final say over their own bodies. She was adamant about not wasting her life and challenging the status quo. She once said "Sweetie, if you're not living on the edge, then you're taking up space." 

 

Monica Simpson

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Monica Simpson is the Executive Director of SisterSong, and works every day to amplify and strengthen the voices of indigenous women and women of color to ensure reproductive justice through securing human rights. Talk about inspiring. She was the first person of color to be hired at the Lesbian Gay & Community Center in Charlotte, NC, trained young African-Americans in philanthropy, fundraising and activism as a coordinator for Grassroots Leadership. She also founded Charlotte's Black Gay Pride Celebration and Charlotte's African American Giving Circle. 

 

Kimberlé Williams Chrenshaw

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We have Kimberlé to thank for coining the term "intersectionality", which led to much of her work on race, gender, and how these things overlap in the feminist movement. Her writings on civil rights, black feminist legal theory, race, racism, and the law have been published extensively.  She wrote a background paper for the United Nations World Conference on Racism on race and gender discrimination, which helped facilitate the inclusion of gender in the WCAR Conference Declaration. And that's not all - Kimberle is also the Director of the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies and Founder of the African-American Policy Forum. 

 

Alice Walker

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In addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize for writing the iconic novel The Color Purple, which focused on liberation from enforced male dominant religion and thought and poses questions about society not otherwise asked before, Walker has wrote extensively on the relationship between black women and society. She's published In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women, which details the stories of poor and marginalized women of color making choices reflecting their status in life. Her novel Possessing the Secret of Joy led to the 1993 book/documentary Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Binding of Women

 

Shirley Chisolm

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Shirley Chisolm made history when she became the first black woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. She didn't stop there - she ran for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination, and the Democratic Convention that year was the first major convention in which an African-american woman was considered for a presidential nomination. She co-founded the National Political caucus of Black Women, and has been quoted as saying "When I die, I want to be remembered as a woman who lived in the 20th century and who dared to be a catalyst of change." 

 

Rep. Alma Adams

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When Rep. Alma Adams was elected in November 2014, she helped us reach a record breaking 100 women serving in Congress this term. She is a fierce defender of reproductive freedom, and fought hard against anti-choice restrictions tacked on to a motorcycle safety bill in her home state of North Carolina. 

 

Rep. Gwen Moore

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Rep. Gwen Moore is known as a pro-choice champion, and for good reason. She is the past Democratic chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, and led the charge to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. She's a leader on women's health, women's economic and retirement security, and domestic violence and sexual assault. 

 

Charlene A. Carruthers

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Charlene Carruthers has over 10 years of experience in the racial justice, feminist, and youth leadership movements, which is what lead her to her current position as National Director of the Black Youth Project 100. She has lead grassroots digital campaign strategies for organizations like the Center for Community Change, the Women's Media Center, National People's Action, and ColorOfChange.org and developed trainings for the NAACP, NOI, the Center for Progressive Leadership, and MoveOn.org. 

 

Jessica Byrd

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Jessica Byrd is the Manager of State Strategies at EMILY's List; where she engages community leaders and activists to identify first-time candidates, particularly women of colors. She is a vocal advocate for low-income people and their communities, and is one of TIME Magazine's "12 New Faces of Black Leadership." 

 

Janet Mock

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You might know Janet Mock from her MSNBC Shift show, "So POPular!", and if you don't you should start watching it! She is a prominent advocate for trans women's rights, and launched #GirlsLikeUs in 2012 - a social movement that empowers trans women and celebrates the diversity of womenhood. She is also one of TIME Magazine's "12 New Faces of Black Leadership." 

 

Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi

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Alicia, Patrisse, and Opal are the creators of #BlackLivesMatter, the movement which created a space for the celebration and humanization of black lives after the incidents in Ferguson and Staten Island in 2014. The movement affirms black contributions to society, humanity, and the resilience the black community has shown in the face of oppression. 

 

Renee Bracey Sherman

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Renee Bracey Sherman is a strong advocate of abortion rights, and uses the story of her own abortion to encourage others to speak out and end the stigma around the topic. Renee is active on Twitter [https://twitter.com/rbraceysherman], and has had her story featured in outlets from Fusion to the BBC .

 

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman

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Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman is a huge advocate for women in Congress, and was the first African-American congresswoman from New Jersey. She believes in equal pay and that a woman's right to choose is between a woman and her doctor. She's committed to protecting women's access to comprehensive health care, and is dedicated to making sure that reproductive rights remain a reality for women. 

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