A Boomer II's Black Female Role Models

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This post is part three of a three-part series where three generations of women reveal Black women who have inspired them throughout the years. Discover a Millennial's and Xennial's heroes in part one and part two.

There’s no shortage of representation for Black women in today's society, but when I was growing up, seeing a woman in a position of power was few and far between.

I was born in 1959, which was five years before segregation. Times were changing, but women were still seen as just wives and mothers. It was common to see a woman as a secretary but never an executive. A nurse but never a doctor, and if she was an activist or politician, there was typically a man at the forefront.

Thankfully, my older brothers and sisters were very active in the civil rights movement and were instrumental in teaching me what I wasn’t taught in school.

Many women throughout my life have inspired me, and most of them were in my very own community. Outside of my day-to-day interactions, I have come across other Black women from whom I have drawn strength and courage, and I would like to share them with you.

1Diahann Carroll

Diahann Carroll was one of the first Black women to transcend racial barriers in television. Carroll was the star of Julia, the first American television series to chronicle the life of a Black professional woman.

2Leontyne Price

Sing her name from the high heavens because legendary Leontyne Price certainly made her voice heard. Price was the first African American soprano to receive international acclaim. From 1961 she began a long association with the Metropolitan Opera and was so indispensable that the company planned its season repertory around her performances.

3Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks is an iconic writer and was the first Black person to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for her book Annie Allen, which chronicles the evolution of a young Black girl into womanhood through poetry. Her writing was so powerful that she became the first Black woman to serve as the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress.

4Dr. Patricia Bath

Dr. Patricia Bath helped change the face of medicine — literally. Bath invented a laser cataract treatment device called a Laserphaco Probe and was the first female African American medical doctor to receive a medical patent. The co-founder of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness patented her invention in 1988. Bath was also the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology. 

5Marie Van Brittan Brown

Marie Van Brittan Brown created an early version of the modern home security system. Due to her neighborhood’s high crime rate, the full-time nurse felt unsafe. To ease her worries when away from home, she rigged a motorized camera to record her home entryway and project images onto a TV monitor. Her setup also included a two-way microphone to communicate with visitors without opening the door, as well as a panic button to notify police of any potential emergency in progress. After filing to patent the closed-circuit TV security system in 1966, Brown received her approval in December 1969.

6Edna Lewis

Edna Lewis is among the elite when it comes to Southern cooking (and bravery). Lewis is known as both the grande dame and grande doyenne of southern cooking and was among the first African American women from the South to write a cookbook that did not conceal the author's true name, gender, or race.

7Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner

Despite facing race-related hurdles, African American inventor Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner fought to make everyday life easier with her ideas. She is most noted for her development of the adjustable sanitary belt in the 1920s, and although racial discrimination prevented her from acquiring the patent for 30 years, Kenner would go on to acquire and exercise five more patents — more than any other Black woman in history. 


Tags: Black History, Black History Month, KNOWHERNAME

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Written By

Cassandra Hall

Cassie is a retired sustainability broker and grandmother of two. When she is not traveling, she enjoys cooking, reading, and bird watching. See Full Bio

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