Black History and Women

People and Events in African American and African Women's History

Reconstruction-era vocational school
Reconstruction-era vocational school to learn sewing. Adapted from image in Library of Congress
Women are half the human race, and they're half of black history, as well. Here are some highlights bringing together black history and women's history. Scroll through this list to find timelines of African American history and women, biographies of African American women, African women rulers, and more.

Basics of African American Women's History

Woman Operating a Hand Drill, Vultee-Nashville, 1943
Woman Operating a Hand Drill, Vultee-Nashville, 1943. Courtesy Library of Congress

Here are some resources that will get you started quickly in learning about and exploring the history of African American women. The timeline will show the events and individuals in historical context, and the ever-growing list of biographies will introduce you to some powerful and interesting individuals. If you want to test your knowledge of African American women's history, try the quiz.

African American Women in Colonial and Revolutionary America

Phillis Wheatley
Phillis Wheatley. Stock Montage / Getty Images

The early Europeans brought Africans with them to the Americas, and it was not long before the institution of slavery was established in what would become the United States. When the laws changed so that, for those of African ancestry, servitude followed the condition of the mother, not the father, the system of chattel slavery had begun. The story of African American women in these times is mostly of women without names. Phillis Wheatley is one, but not the only, exception to this enforced anonymity.

Slavery and Abolitionism

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman. Seidman Photo Service/Kean Collection/Getty Images

The United States declared itself a free nation and that every citizen had a right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" -- but also accepted the institution of slavery. Women were quite active in the abolitionist movement. White women came out of their domestic sphere to work against the enslavement of others. Black women spoke from their experience, bringing their story to audiences to elicit empathy and action.

Key Figures:

Changing Times

Maggie Lena Walker
Maggie Lena Walker. Courtesy National Park Service

As the Civil War ended, and slaves were freed, the lives of African Americans were changing. Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, civil rights progress and regression, educational and other opportunities, social reform: here are highlights and key figures in women's history from the end of the Civil War until just before the founding of the NAACP.

Pictures:

Key Figures:

Good Times, Bad Times

Portrait of Dr Mary McLeod Bethune 1943
Portrait of Dr Mary McLeod Bethune 1943. Gordon Parks/Anthony Potter Collection/Getty Images

From the NAACP to the Harlem Renaissance, African American presence in America blossomed. The Great Depression brought hard times, and World War II and the post-war period brought new challenges and involvements.

Harlem Renaissance:

More Key Figures:

Civil Rights and Breaking Barriers

Rosa Parks on Bus in Montgomery, Alabama - 1956
Rosa Parks on Bus in Montgomery, Alabama - 1956. Courtesy Library of Congress

In the 1950s and 1960s, and into the 1970s, the civil rights movement took historical center stage. African American women had key roles in that movement, in the "second wave" of the women's rights movement, and, as barriers fell, in making cultural contributions to American society.

Key Figures:

1980s and 1990s

Mae Jemison
Mae Jemison. Courtesy NASA

The last two decades of the century brought reverses in affirmative action but more openings for African Americans and women.

Key Figures:

African Women

Nefertiti Bust at the Altes Museum
Nefertiti Bust at the Altes Museum, Berlin, Germany, 2007. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Some claim that Nefertiti and Cleopatra are among the queens of black history; whether they are or not, there are other women of (black) African history who are interesting and important to remember. Here are a few:

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Black History and Women." ThoughtCo, Jun. 14, 2017, thoughtco.com/african-american-womens-history-3528267. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2017, June 14). Black History and Women. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/african-american-womens-history-3528267 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Black History and Women." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/african-american-womens-history-3528267 (accessed October 20, 2017).