Hattie Canty

Hattie Canty. Image credit: Zinn Education Project

In honor of Black History Month, “Black Women Built That” is an annual series celebrating Black women leaders who have shaped our social, political and cultural life. Without their contributions, our country would be unrecognizable.

As Nia Evans, Manager of Campaign & Digital Strategies said so eloquently, “Black women built this nation and made room for the freedoms and opportunities we hold dear, all the while facing hatred, bigotry and violence. Actually think about what Black women have accomplished. We imagined and actualized our freedom while in bondage. We raised our community out of pain and suffering and led them to a new way of life. We organized and ushered in civil rights laws and protections for millions. We created new ways to talk, sing, dance, cook, love, and learn. As we proclaimed last year, #BlackWomenDidThat. There’s not a single movement for social and economic justice that we didn’t build in some way. We started at the bottom and now we’re literally here. Oh, and we brought everyone else along with us.”

Click through to read more about amazing Black women from our past and present whose work is shaping a better future for everyone.  

Labor and Workers’ Rights

“Black women have been essential leaders across social justice movements, and the labor movement is no exception. Despite historical segregation that kept women and Black workers out of some of the most powerful labor unions in the United States, Black women have led past and present struggles for economic justice – even as their contributions were often ignored by the history books. This Black History Month, we are making space to highlight a few of the radical Black women who have dedicated their lives to organizing; women who fought long and hard, so that all working people can realize not just basic workplace rights, but a life of dignity, respect, and joy.”

Byllye Avery & Khiara M. Bridges (Reproductive Health)

“At a time when the reproductive rights movement is being portrayed to be dominated by white women in pussy hats, I just want to be clear: BLACK WOMEN BUILT THAT (TOO). So. A HUGE thank you to both Byllye Avery and Khiara Bridges for doing the incredibly important work of making sure Black women’s needs remain at the center of the reproductive justice movement.”

Fannie Lou Hamer & Loretta Lynch (Voting Rights)

“Black women have been instrumental in creating the framework for every effort to expand voting rights in this country and in doing so, have created a blueprint of what it looks like to fight for and win the liberties we all deserve. Black women such as Hamer used direct action, story-telling, and community organizing to expand the right to vote. And today, Black women like Loretta Lynch continue to use those tools, as well as litigation, to protect that right.”

Activist Queens featuring Elaine Brown & Opal Tometi (Civil Rights)

“Elaine Brown and Opal Tometi give me hope. They make it clear that Black women can be bold, powerful leaders of social justice movements, whether they are wanted there or not. They are poignant examples of breaking barriers and conquering obstacles that seem impossible to overcome. No matter what is said about us or how we are erased from the history books, they can’t change that Black women built these movements, and they always will.”

Marian Wright Edelman, Sophia Bracy Harris, and Lenice C. Emanuel (Children’s Advocacy)

“Marian, Sophia, and Lenice have elevated the rights of children and what they and their families need to succeed in Washington, states, and local communities by advocating for a child care and early learning system that works for everyone—children, their families, and providers—creating a stronger country today and in the future.”

Anna Julia Cooper & Nikole Hannah-Jones (Education)

“This Black History Month, we’re going to talk about the women who brought us here. The women who shaped—and continue to shape— our laws, policies, and culture. And because Black History Month is about histories and futures—we’re going to bless your life by celebrating two Black women who rewrote the rules of a system we all depend on—education.”

Carol Brunson Day (Childhood Education)

“Dr. Day entered the field driven by a “strong desire for all children to have the childhood [she] had”, an upbringing that was intimately shaped by passionate educators. Early in her career, this desire led her to balance her responsibility to future educators in the classroom, with her responsibility to make lasting social change in the field. ”

Sharon Shelton (Racial Justice)

“Combining her learned skills of using her voice and passion in college and at the Rosa Parks Center with how she learned new systemic ways to advocate while at the YWCA Greater Los Angeles, she has learned how to use her power with her voice to be an agent of change. ”

Michelle Vinson (Sexual Harassment and Workplace)

“In fact, Mechelle’s words are actually timeless echoes from over 30 years ago. They are timeless because sexual harassment and assault in the workplace are still threats in the workplace which (many, too many) women must combat and negotiate around- to not rock the boat, to not lose their jobs, to not have their characters dragged through a judgmental public eye.”

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