Campus Life

5 women who fought for racial justice and what they taught us

by Sulvey Polanco

“She believed she could, so she did.” – R.S. Grey

February is Black History Month, a time we recognize the amazing, influential individuals who have helped make the world a better place. They taught us if we want to impact the world, we MUST speak up and take a stand against injustice. They did what many people couldn’t. They suffered for their actions but proved that good does come out of good-doings.

Here are 5 powerful women who fought for racial justice and taught us we CAN make a change:

 

1. Viola Desmond

Photo of Viola Desmond
Image Courtesy of The Canadian Encyclopedia

 

You may recognize Viola as the women on the newest Canadian, $10 bill. Not only is she the first black woman to be featured on a Canadian bill, but it’s also Canada’s first vertical bill.

Viola was a Nova Scotian businesswoman who, in 1946, took a stand against racial segregation.

At this time, movie theatres were segregated. This meant white people got to sit on the floor seats and black people were confined to the balconies. Viola, who had bad eyesight, tried to buy a ticket on the floor but was refused. Instead, she bought a balcony seat for a penny less. Once she got in, she decided to take a stance against these unfair conditions and sat on a floor seat.

Later, the police were called on Viola and she was charged with refusing to pay the government the 1-cent tax. She was taken to jail for 12 hours, forced to pay a $20 fine, all over a single penny and a movie seat.

Viola was a leading factor that helped to diminish racial segregation and bring equality to Canada. She taught us to fight for what’s right. No matter how hard it may be, good will always come out of it.

 

2. Rosa Parks

Photo of Rosa Parks on bus
Image Courtesy of History.com

 

Rosa Parks A.K.A. “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement,” is one of the most influential women in all of history. If you aren’t familiar with her empowering story, then here it is:

In 1955, under the Jim Crow Laws, white and black segregation was still present in America. Rosa Parks was a strong and brave woman who refused to give up her bus seat for a white person. The “whites only” section of the bus had filled up and the bus driver, James F. Blake, tried to make her give up her seat and move to the “black only” section.

She refused to move from her seat and was arrested for not abiding by the segregation laws. That small action caused a great impact in the community.

From this small, but meaningful action stemmed a much larger movement. After Rosa’s story began circulating, came the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Not only did she cause Montgomery busses to be boycotted by many for over a year but she also became one of the main icons that helped change the unfair segregation laws. If you’re interested in reading more about her inspirational story, you can purchase her autobiography.

3. Jo Ann Robinson

Jo Ann Robinson holding sign that reads number 7042 and quote reading, "the boycott was the most beautiful memory that all of us who participated will carry to our resting place"
Image Courtesy of Quoteikon

 

Jo Ann Robinson rarely gets the recognition she rightfully deserves. When people recall the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the first person who comes to mind is likely Rosa Parks. Just like Rosa, Jo Ann played an essential role in this civil rights movement.

Jo Ann was a civil rights activist born in 1912 who fought hard for equality until her death in 1992. She played a crucial role in the abolition of black/white segregation by organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

After news spread of Rosa Park’s wrongful incarceration, Robinson took initiative and asked Rosa if she was okay with starting a revolution to fight against the laws at the time. Thanks to her help, the boycott spread largely across most African-American people in the area.

Chairman of Alabama state’s business department, John Cannon helped Jo Ann spread over 50,000 flyers across Montgomery as a call to action. She became the orchestrator who helped rid the segregation laws despite repercussions that came with it. This included police harassment and vandalism to her home.

 

4. Harriet Tubman

Black and White photo of Harriet Tubman
Image Courtesy of WHRO

 

Harriet Tubman was also referred to as “the conductor” of the Underground Railroad. Harriet was born into slavery in Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She was married to John Tubman, a free man, while she was still enslaved. Unfortunately, she remained a slave until fleeing to Pennsylvania in 1849. Her husband did not go on the trip with her and she later remarried.

Harriet’s legacy didn’t end there. Though she was a free woman, she courageously endangered her life on several occasions by returning to Maryland to save family members and strangers from slavery. Harriet made around 19 trips to-and-from Maryland through the underground railroad escorting around 300 slaves to freedom.

Her hard work and fearless attitude saved the lives of hundreds of people. Despite the costly potential consequences, she risked her life for the good of others and was rightfully nicknamed, “Moses.”

If Harriet taught us anything, she taught us that despite the hardships you may go through, it is ALWAYS important to do good to others.

 

5. Maya Angelou

Photo of Maya Angelou
Image Courtesy of The Dallas Examiner

 

Maya Angelou was a writer, singer and civil rights activist who changed the world for the better. She fearlessly worked alongside civil rights activists and told her story in hopes to spread awareness and peace.

Maya worked alongside influential people such as Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, W.E.B Dubois, Gloria Steinem and many more. By this, she promoted equality and further helped their mission to make the world a more peaceful place. Her writing alone was more than enough to include her in this list, but she did much more than that.

According to The Nation, she fought tirelessly, advocating for civil rights before dying in 2014. She was the only woman editor of the Arab Observer where she wrote about the anti-colonialism struggle that’s strongly present in Africa. Maya also personally spoke out to legislators on the importance of marriage equality. She professed that people should be able to love who they want to love.

If all this weren’t enough, she wrote her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969. In the book, she bravely told her story on the sexual assaults she faced as a child as well as racism. Her autobiography sparked the attention of many and got people talking about sexual assault and racism, giving victims a voice and a sense of community.

Maya taught us to use our platform and our voices to fight for what’s right while spreading love and positivity.

 

light sign with sky in background reading "THE SAME FOR EVERYONE"

 

Though the world has a long way to go before we can truly say that racism is gone, we have made great progress from where we once were. These women changed the lives of millions and made the world a much better place.

Use your voice, use your platform, and fight against racial injustice.


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