Black History Month: "Black + Beautiful" Women to Know

Photo credit: Joey Rosado for Island Boy Photography

Photo credit: Joey Rosado for Island Boy Photography

It’s February and in the U.S., it’s not only the month of love, it’s also Black History Month!

It’s a time to celebrate the achievements of people of African descent whose achievements have not just paved the way for black Americans, but all Americans.

In honor of Black History Month, I recently wrote an article for Imperishable Beauty’s Quarterly Journal on this passage found in Song of Songs, “you are black but beautiful.” The article explores the racial identity of the Shulamite woman and American beauty standards.

“And as black women, our past extends back further than slavery or the savage things done to us over the course of history or the ways American culture has viewed us. Here in the garden where Solomon is playing with his beloved, he sees a beautiful black woman and he says, “You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” (Song of Songs 4:7) “ Read more here.

Speaking of black women, the women featured below are all trailblazers who empower us all with their indomitable spirit, social activism, literature, and music.

Ruby Bridges

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“Be brave.”

Ruby Bridges was only six years old in 1960 when she was escorted to school by four federal marshals. She was one of six African-American students designated to integrate the William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana, but the only one to enroll.

Her bravery inspired the Norman Rockwell painting, “The Problem We All Live With” in 1964, which depicts Ruby walking to school and the racist words that were written on the signs of many protestors who fought against the integration.

Now in her 60s, Ruby Bridges is an author and activist. She established the Ruby Bridges Foundation to promote tolerance and unity among schoolchildren using educational initiatives. 

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Coretta Scott King

“Be what you are”

Coretta Scott King wasn’t just Martin Luther King’s wife but she was an author and civil rights leader in her own right who championed women’s rights.

Throughout her marriage, Coretta appeared side by side with her husband fighting against injustice. She also openly criticized the movement’s exclusion of women. She had four children and it was her daughter, Bernice, who tweeted recently:

“Remember my mother. Today. Always. There would be no #MLKDay without #CorettaScottKing. Architect of the King legacy. Exemplary leader. Founder of @TheKingCenter less than 3 months after my father was assassinated. And she taught #MLK about the global peace movement.”

Beside every great man is a great woman leading, building, and raising great children. Coretta Scott King did all of those things with style (wit) and grace. Let’s remember and celebrate her, always.

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Dorothy West

“There is no life that does not contribute to history.” — Dorothy West 
Dorothy West was a novelist and short story writer during the time of the Harlem Renaissance. She is best known for her novels The Living Is Easy, The Wedding and many other short stories and essays, about the life of an upper-class black family. 

Her father was a former slave who later became a successful businessman. Dorothy wrote her first story at the age of seven and was a published writer by the time she was 14 years old when her first short story, "Promise and Fulfillment", was published in the Boston Post. 

Dorothy was one of the last surviving members of the Harlem Renaissance. Shortly before she died in 1998, she was asked what she wanted to be remembered for and she said, “That I hung in there. That I didn't say I can't."

Today, we remember Dorothy West and many other writers of the Harlem Renaissance who created great works of literature. 

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Hattie McDaniel

“A woman’s gifts will make room for her.” — Hattie McDaniel

Today, we celebrate Hattie McDaniel, who broke barriers in the film industry when she became the first African American to win an Academy Award for acting in any category. She won Best Supporting Actress for “Gone With the Wind” in 1940. ⠀
In addition to fighting discrimination in Hollywood, Hattie McDaniel fought against discriminatory housing practices in California and won in a 1945 landmark case that set a precedent that would later help the Supreme Court rule it unconstitutional for the courts to enforce restrictive housing covenants in Shelley v. Kraemer in 1948.

In honor of #BlackHistoryMonth and the recent Academy Awards, we salute Hattie McDaniels and the seven other black actresses who have followed her lead, including Regina King who won on Sunday for Best Supporting Actress for “If Beale Street Could Talk.”