Notable Black Women in History

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Autherine Lucy was the first African-American to desegregate the University of Alabama. She was admitted to University of Alabama in 1952 but barred from enrolling once university officials realized she was black. The  NAACP took up her case, and Autherine was represented by Thurgood Marshall and Arthur Shores. After the passage of Brown. Board of Education, Lucy tried again to challenge the policies of the University of Alabama and enroll. In 1955 a judge ruled that the University had to admit Lucy, and she enrolled. She later was expelled from the school on the basis that it was too dangerous for her to attend and that she had made baseless claims against the university (Autherine, Marshall, and Shores filed a formal complaint alleging that the university was conspiring with Autherine’s aggressors). One interesting fact is that Autherine Lucy was admitted to University of Alabama alongside her friend Pollie Ann Myers, who was not allowed to attend the university even after Brown v. Board of Education passed because the University denied her admission on the basis that she had become pregnant out of wedlock. Autherine went to University of Alabama for her masters and graduated in 1992, her daughter was also attending the university at the time. There is a scholarship in her honor.

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Gloria Richardson was the leader of the Cambridge Movement- the only movement affiliated with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that was not student led, was a movement for civil rights and fair treatment in Cambridge, Maryland. The Cambridge movement was one of the first major pushes for civil rights to take place outside of the South. Gloria Richardson advocated for and negotiated with then Attorney General Robert Kennedy to develop the Treaty of Cambridge, an agreement covering desegregation, housing and employment issues. In August 1963, Richardson went to the March on Washington, where she was one of six "Negro Women Fighters for Freedom" on the program. The part of the Treaty of Cambridge that dealt with discrimination in public accommodations was repealed when put to a vote in the fall of 1963. Richardson’s movement was seen as radical. She supported violence in self defense. “A first-class citizen does not beg for freedom. A first-class citizen does not plead to the white power structure to give him something that the whites have no power to give or take away. Human rights are human rights, not white rights.”- Gloria Richardson.

Elaine Brown

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Elaine Brown was the first and only woman to ever lead the Black Panther Party. She was appointed by Huey Newton. When Huey Newton was exiled in Cuba (avoiding charges for a case in which he was accused of murdering a 17-year old prostitute), Brown, who was romantically involved with Newton, took charge of the party. She was the first and only woman to do so. Elaine advanced women’s roles within the party by appointing them to key leadership positions. Her leadership of the Black Panther Party was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement because no woman had led the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Brown left the party after Newton’s return to leadership when he authorized the beating of Regina King, the administrator of the Black Panther’s school,  for a minor transgression. In her eyes, “the beating of Regina would be taken as a clear signal hat the words Panther and comrade had taken gender connotations...denoting an inferiority in the female half of us.” Today, Brown continues to speak out on social justice issues including mass incarceration and economic inequality. She wrote a book, “A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story.”

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The Rebel Queens

In what is now known as the U.S. Virgin Islands, three black women led the largest rebellion in the history of the islands, in direct protest to the treatment and conditions of newly freed slaves and laborers. The women are known as Queen Mary, Queen Agnes, and Queen Mathilda. All three of them were arrested , alongside another woman (Susana Abrahamson) for their role in the rebellion. The immediate reason behind the rebellion in 1878 was that rumors about improvements in the strict labor rules from 1849 turned out to be groundless. The population was frustrated that conditions largely had not improved after the abolition of slavery. It is also believed that during the unrest, the rebellion was further provoked because of rumors of police brutality against a black man named Henry. The three women were arrested,  and subsequently served out life sentences. A statute of Queen Mary was erected in Denmark, the country’s first public monument to a black woman.

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