Influential African American Women in History

In honor of Black History Month, here are a few African American women who have impacted not only the African American community but the entire human race. From their words to their influential movements, these women left a mark of hope in many young women.

A woman who took NASA to new heights

This is an image of Katherine Johnson.
Credit for all these photos: NASA

Katherine Johnson is the physicist and mathematician who helped launch the first use of digital electronic computers at NASA. In 1953, Johnson joined a team of black women working with the organization. However, she was the only woman chosen to work with an all-male research team. In this position, Johnson calculated the orbit for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon. She also co-wrote 26 scientific papers, which NASA still uses. This math prodigy graduated with a double major in math and French at 18 years old. In 2015, President Obama awarded Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Johnson helped pave the way for black women to work in many fields, including science, engineering, technology, and mathematics.

A phenomenal woman who rose

Credit: William J. Clinton Presidential Library

Despite having a challenging childhood, Maya Angelou fought for a better future. She earned three Grammy awards, more than 30 honorary degrees, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom through the course of her career. She is best known for her remarkable and uplifting autobiographical poetry. One of her essential poems is “And Still I Rise,” which is also the title of her third book. It consists of 32 poems that focus on a hopeful determination to rise above difficulty and discouragement.

A leader who made her seat at the table

Credit: Library of Congress

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” said Shirley Chisholm is the first African American woman elected to the United States Congress. She also represented New York’s 12th District for 14 years. Chisholm aimed to break gender and racial barriers. She started by hiring only women to serve in her congressional office. Chisholm also fought for better education, health services, and more. In 1972, Chisholm became the first woman and African American nominee for a major political party for president of the U.S.

Cells of significance

This is an image of Henrietta Lacks.
Credit: Lacks family/Henrietta Lacks Foundation

In 1951, months before Henrietta Lacks’ death, Dr. George Otto Gey, with John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, took pieces of Lacks’ cancerous tissue. He then invented the HeLa cell line, which is the first immortalized human cell line. It’s also of the most important in medical research. They are the first human cells ever bought, sold, and successfully cloned. Lacks’ cells are in vaccines, medications and have led to many medical breakthroughs. They are also being used to test human sensitivity to tape, glue, and more.

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