by Eleanor Goold
Here is a list of 3 black women who have inspired others and made a big difference but who you may have never have heard about.
When we think of famous black women who changed the world we usually turn our attention to well-known celebrities and activists such as Oprah Winfrey and Rosa Parks. However, there have been other famous black women who have stood up and made a difference. Here are just three of them.
1) The Powerful Leader
- Queen Ranavalona I
(1778–August 16, 1861)
Queen who? You may well be asking. This sister was one to be reckoned with; Queen of Madagascar from 1828 to 1861, Ranavalona gained herself a bit of a reputation as a badass.
Known by some as the “Mad Queen of Madagascar,” during her 33 year reign this remarkable and very powerful woman successfully fought off the encroachment of European colonialists such as Great Britain and France while keeping the sovereignty and culture of her country intact.
She banned the practice of Christianity from the island for her own people and used forced labor in lieu of tax payments in money or goods to complete public works. Her excessive force used on both her own sovereign people and foreigners alike gained her the epithet of “Ranavalona the Cruel.”
History has since changed its view of “The Bloody Mary of Madagascar” and recognized that despite her seemingly harsh rule and despotic reputation, she was in fact a much respected and admired Queen who loved her country and would do anything to protect her empire and the country’s sovereignty.
Not long after her death, Madagascar did indeed become a French colony, something which she had fought fiercely against. It is considered that the reason why the island is so rich in traditional crafts today is because it remained free of European rule for much of the 19th century, thanks to Ranavalona.
In her own country Ranavalona is viewed with pride as a great sovereign and symbol of patriotism.
2) The Actor, Dancer, and Activist
- Josephine Baker
(June 3, 1906–April 12, 1975)
Known as the “Black Pearl,” Josephine Baker was an American born French actress, dancer, and singer who during her time received approximately 1,500 proposals.
This babe was talented and hot!
In her heyday she literally took Paris by storm with her exotic beauty, not to mention her seductive dance routines and revealing dresses and costumes, one of which was a skirt made from bananas.
Unfortunately she was not so well received in her home country, the US, who were not open to the idea of a black woman having such celebrity status at the time.
Josephine Baker was more than an entertainer, she was also an activist who even worked for the French Resistance during World War II for which she received a medal.
During her career she continued to travel to the US to fight racism and even adopted children of different ethnic backgrounds and named them the “Rainbow Tribe” to show others how we could all get along together in this world.
She went on to make a performance at the New York Carnegie Hall in the 1970’s and was nervous about how she would be received, however times had changed and she received a standing ovation on stage before her performance even began; which moved her to tears leading her to weep on stage.
This woman was an absolute inspiration who was not only the first African American female to star in a major movie, but one who also paved the way for other black women in the field of entertainment as well as life in general.
3) The Sports Super Star
- Florence Delorez Griffith Joyner
(December 21, 1959–September 21, 1998).
Florence Delorez Griffith Joyner
Better known as “Flo-Jo,” this American track and field sensation took home 3 gold medals and a silver at the 1988 Summer Olympics.
She is known as the “fastest woman of all time” and still holds the world record in the 100 and 200 meter events.
Despite her success, there were rumors that her coach Bob Kersee encouraged the use of performance enhancing drugs which Flo-Jo always denied.
The claims came about as a result of her increased performance levels between 1984, where she competed in the Summer Olympic games in Los Angeles winning a silver in the 200 meters, and her performance in 1988 where she took home 3 gold’s and a silver.
In fact, Flo-Jo never failed a drug test so there was never any real evidence that she did make use of performance enhancing drugs.
Flo-Jo was famous not just for her incredible athleticism but also her distinctive unique style when running. She would often run in spandex body suits while sporting 6 inch long decorated fingernails. When she was younger she was once asked to leave a shopping mall for wearing her pet boa constrictor around her neck!
Sadly, Flo-Jo died in her sleep at the age of just 38 following an epileptic seizure.
Her records remain unbeaten to this day and she stands as an inspiration to other hopeful athletes.
Flamboyant, gifted and smart, this was a woman who will remain very hard to beat.
Nowadays women have many more opportunities than they used to have thanks in part to these breed of determined and great women. However, there is still much work to be done.
So let’s take our inspiration from those who have gone before us, continue their legacy and pave our own way to a better future.
Cover photo: http://thegrio.com