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Shirley Chisholm

Before Hillary Clinton, there was the unbought and unbossed Shirley Chisholm. Chisholm began her career in politics at Brooklyn College, after her professor told her she had a "quick mind and debating skills."

The first-generation American took those words and ran with them. In 1968, Chisholm became the first African-American Congresswoman, representing Brooklyn in the House of Representatives. She followed this historic act with another one: in 1972, she became the first Black woman to run for president, claiming that no other candidate cared as much about issues plaguing the Black community.  

Her run was called the "Chisholm Trail," according to National Women's History Museum. Ultimately, she didn't earn the Democratic nomination, but she earned 151 delegate votes at the convention.

Chisholm referred to as the "people's politician" served in Congress for 14 years. During that time, she introduced over 50 pieces of legislation, co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus, and served on the Committee on Education and Labor. President Bill Clinton attempted to appoint her as the U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica, but she declined. Though Chisholm died in 2005, her political legacy continues to inspire women, including the one who may just become America's first female president.

Learn about Shirley Chisholm's historic presidential run in the PBS documentary "Chisholm '72."

Diane Nash

Diane Nash in the 1960's
photo: Twitter

Diane Nash was, and continues to be, a warrior for freedom. In 1959, she transferred from Howard University in Washington, D.C. to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. It was there she learned the extent of segregation and decided to battle against it.

By 1961, Nash became a full-fledged activist. She participated in multiple sit-ins, which led to stints in jail. At one point, she was sentenced to two years in prison for "teaching nonviolent tactics to children in Jackson, Mississippi." She, too, was a prominent member of SNCC, and coordinated the Freedom Rides to Southern states entrenched in segregation.

Nash is still fighting for freedom. Years ago, she refused to attend the commemoration march to Selma because George W. Bush was present.

"I refused to march because George Bush marched,” Nash told journalist Roland Martin on TV One's News One Now. "I think the Selma movement was about non-violence and peace and democracy. And George Bush stands for just the opposite: For violence and war and stolen elections, and his administration … had people tortured."


Diane Nash's role in SNCC is chronicled in "In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s."

Ida B. Wells

You owe a lot to Ida B. Wells-Barnett if you are a journalist reporting on racism, sexism, and other social issues. She's a titan who laid the blueprint for journalists to do important work around these issues.

Wells-Barnett deserves far more credit than she receives. She fought for voting rights for women, reported on lynching, and clashed with white feminists on the importance of intersectionality.

In 1889, Wells-Barnett left the education field to pursue writing. She became part-owner of the "Free Speech and Headlight," an African-American newspaper. There, she reported on the brutality of lynching and advocated for Black women. After leaving Memphis for Chicago, she continued her crusade by publishing "Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases," an amazing book that should be taught in every history class.

Wells-Barnett was also a passionate advocate for women's rights. She participated in the 1913 suffrage march and was also a founding member of the NAACP.

Eventually, Wells-Barnett ran for Illinois State Legislature as an independent candidate, but came in third.

Her life's work will live on forever.

PBS tells Ida B. Wells' story in the documentary, "Ida B. Wells: A Passionate for Justice."

Elaine Brown

Elaine Brown
photo: Facebook

Elaine Brown served as the chairwoman of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense from 1974 to 1977. She took over the reigns of the organization after Kathleen Cleaver first held the leadership position.

Brown also served as editor of the Black Panther Party's newspaper, "The Black Panther." She also ran for Oakland City Council, but didn't win the seat. Her political ambitions didn't end there. In 2007, Brown ran as the Green Party's candidate for the presidency.

To learn more about Elaine Brown, read "A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story"

Dorothy Height is a Civil Rights Movement legend. Referred to as the "godmother" of the Civil Rights Movement, Height served as chair and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women. She also served as the Director of the YWCA School for Professional Workers, and organized around civil rights issues.

Alongside fellow NCNW member, Height organized Wednesdays in Mississippi, workshops that brought Black and white women together during the height of the Civil Rights Movement to discuss racial issues.

She, alongside Gloria Steinem and Shirley Chisholm, co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus and worked to put more women in political office.

As a thank you for her service, President Obama awarded Height the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, and called her "the godmother of the civil rights movement and a hero to so many Americans."

For more information on Dorothy Height, read "Wednesdays in Mississippi: Proper Ladies Working for Radical Change, Freedom Summer 1964"