Black history: forgotten figures

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When people think of women who have made a large contribution to black history, names like Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Maya Angelou come to mind. These women made tremendous strides; however, there are many others whose names go unnoticed.

“There are a lot of people in Black history, women especially, who don’t get the recognition they deserve,” said sophomore Lauren Jackson. “Society won’t put the time in to recognize their talents and accomplishments.”

As Black history month comes to a close, let’s take time to focus on lesser known African-American women of the 19th, 20th, and 21st century.

19th Century
Charlotte E. Ray was a lawyer and activist. Unlike most girls, she was able to attend the Institution for Education of Colored Youth in Washington D.C. Upon graduating, she was hired by Howard University to train teachers at a preparatory school. Ray applied to Howard School of Law under the name C.E. Ray to conceal her gender. Ray was accepted and later admitted to the District of Columbia bar where she became the first African-American female lawyer in the United States and the third woman of any race to receive a law degree. Ray broke many racial and gender barriers by becoming a lawyer and as she was the first woman to be admitted to the bar exam in D.C.

Ray opened her own practice, specializing in commercial law. However, she had to close her practice due to lack of business because of racial and gender prejudice. Ray later became a teacher for Brooklyn Public Schools. She participated in the women’s suffrage movement and was a delegate in the 1876 National Woman’s Suffrage Association (NWSA). Ray was also a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

20th Century
Alice Walker is an american author and activist. Walker attended Spelman College in Atlanta and was involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s. She later transferred to Sarah Lawrence College in New York where she received her B.A. degree. Walker’s participation in the Civil Rights Movement included working for the New York City Dept. of Welfare, registering voters in Liberty County, Georgia, and attending the Youth World Peace Festival in Finland. Walker also taught African-American women’s studies at Wellesley, the University of Massachusetts, Yale, Brandeis, and the University of California. Walker continues to be a champion for justice across the world. She stands up for environmental issues, international women’s rights, and against female genital mutilation.

Beyond working as an activist, Walker is a world famous author. She completed her first novel in 1969, The Third Life of Grange Copeland. Her most famous work is The Color Purple (1982), which won a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1983. The Color Purple was adapted into a film directed by Steven Spielberg in 1985 and also a musical. Walker is also the author of many other novels, essays, short stories, and poems. In 2001, Walker was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.

21st Century
Melissa Harris-Perry is an African-American journalist, author, professor, and television show host. Harris-Perry holds a B.A. in English from Wake Forest University and a Ph.D in political science from Duke University. She also obtained an honorary doctorate degree from Meadville Lombard Theological School. She works at Wake Forest University as the professor of Political and International Affairs. In the past she was a faculty member at both the University of Chicago and Princeton University.

Harris-Perry also leads the Anna Julia Cooper Project which investigates the parallels between gender, race, and politics in the South. Harris-Perry wrote Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought, and won the 2005 W.E.B. Du Bois Book Award and the 2005 Best Book Award in the Race and Ethnic Politics section of the American Political Science Association. She is also the author of Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. Harris-Perry also travels around the country giving lectures at institutions and businesses.

Her most impressive feat is being the host of the “Melissa Harris-Perry Show” on MSNBC where she covers topics important to women and people of color like police brutality, abortion, and voters’ rights. Harris-Perry makes it her life goal to find solutions to race, ethnic, and gender issues.