In celebration of Martin Luther King's Earth Day and Black History month, FJN would like to honor some of the greatest black women in history. These are women that are seldom celebrated because they are largely in the shadows of the men that they love and support unconditionally. However, we believe these women have made great contributions to the liberation struggle, therefore we humbly pay tribute to these strong black women.
Queen Nanny of the Maroons (1685-1755)
Queen Nanny of the Maroons has largely been ignored by historians who have restricted their focus to male figures in Maroon history (Cudjoe, Accompong, Cuffee and Quaco). Therefore, much of what is known about Nanny comes from oral history as little textual evidence exists. However, Nanny is held up as the most important figure in Maroon history. Queen Nanny is presumed to have been born around the 1680’s in Africa’s Gold Coast (now known as Ghana). She was reported to belong to either the Ashanti or Akan tribe and is said to be of royal African blood. She was said to be married to a man named Adou, but had no children.
Queen Nanny was the spiritual, cultural and military leader of the Windward Maroons and her importance stems from the fact that she guided the Maroons through the most intense period of their resistance against the British, between 1725 and 1740. Nanny's Maroons employed clever strategies which led repeated success in battles with the British, she was a master of guerilla warfare and trained Maroon troops in the art of camouflage. Nanny’s Maroons raided plantations and would then burn the estates and carry off arms, food and captives whom they set free. For over 30 years, Nanny freed more than 800 slaves, and helped them to resettle in the Maroon community. Queen Nanny is credited with being the single figure who united the Maroons across Jamaica and played a major role the preservation of African culture and knowledge
1. The government of Jamaica declared Queen Nanny a National Heroine in 1976. Her portrait graces the $500 Jamaican dollar bill, which is colloquially referred to as a "Nanny".
Ø Nanny's Monument is located in Moore Town, Portland, Jamaica.
Ø Nannyville Gardens, a residential community located in Kingston, Jamaica was founded in 1977.
Ø The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale University uses Nanny's portrait in its logo. The Center sponsors research and conferences on slavery in the Americas.
The Maroons were defiant Jamaican slaves who fled their oppressive existence on plantations and formed their own communities in the rugged, hilly interior of the island. They were considered skilled fighters and hard to defeat. The Maroons mainly consisted of people from the Akan region of West Africa, the Ashanti tribe. However, slaves originating from other regions of West Africa joined the Maroons in their escapes. For over 150 years, the Maroons helped to free slaves from the plantations whilst they damaged land and property belonging to the plantation owners.
Winnie Mandela “"Mother of the Nation”
After Nelson Madela’s release in 1990, crowds flocked to see him, the person they considered the hero of South African anti-apartheid politics. What this crowd was likely not to know was Winnie’s activist work, her leadership and her outspoken opposition to white minority rule played an equal role in the anti-apartheid campaign.
Born Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela on September 26, 1936, in Bizana, a rural village in the Transkei district of South Africa, Winnie Mandela eventually moved to Johannesburg in 1953 to study at the Jan Hofmeyr School of Social Work. South Africa was under the system known as apartheid, where citizens of indigenous African descent were subjected to a harsh caste system in which European descendants enjoyed much higher levels of wealth, health and social freedom. Winnie met lawyer and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela in 1957. The couple married in 1958 and had two daughters, Zenani (born 1959) and Zindzi (born 1960). Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1963 and released in 1990. The couple separated in 1992 and finalized their divorce in 1996.
Winnie is at best portrayed as an appendage to the great man; at worst, a harmful and evil influence on the liberation struggle. The fact is that, for South African women, Winnie's role was more fundamental than her husband's. Winnie was largely responsible for perpetuating Nelson's image as the embodiment of the liberation struggle. More importantly, Winnie suffered, not only because of Nelson's incarceration, but also through her own constant arrests and torture. She was regularly detained by the apartheid government. She was tortured, subjected to house arrest, kept under surveillance, held in solitary confinement for a year then later banished to a remote town. But she remained strong as a leading opponent of the white minority rule government. Beginning in 1969, she spent eighteen months in solitary confinement at Pretoria Central Prison. It was at this time that Winnie Mandela became well known in the West. She organized local clinics, campaigned actively for equal rights and was promoted by the ANC as a symbol of its struggle against apartheid. Winnie held several government positions and headed the African National Congress Women's League and is a member of the ANC's National Executive Committee.
Amy Jacques Garvey (1896-1973)
Amy Jacques Garvey, second wife of Marcus Garvey, did not derive her legitimacy from the status of her husband. She was a leading Pan-Africanist and Black Nationalist in her own right. Always advancing the cause of black liberation, she played influential roles in the movement as journalist, feminist and race activist.
Born Amy Euphemia Jacques Garvey in 1895 in Kingston, Jamaica, she was the eldest child of George Samuel and Charlotte Henriett Jacques. She was raised in a middle class home and was among a minority of young people to attend high school at that time. She moved to the USA in 1917 where she encountered the charismatic Marcus Garvey, who was the driving force for the movement instilling race pride and seeking race redemption for people of African descent. The United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) galvanized and energized Black people from Harlem, USA, to Capetown, South Africa. The couple married in 1922 and thereafter they both personified the movement.
In 1919, she became the Secretary General of the UNIA, a post she held for over half a century proselytizing and propagating Garvey's philosophy of black consciousness, self-help and economic independence. From 1924 to 1927, she was the associate editor of the UNIA's newspaper, The Negro World, where she advanced her feminist/nationalist ideas with the inauguration of a new page entitled "Our Women and What They Think." While her husband was in prison on charges of mail fraud in connection with Black Star Line, she acted as his personal representative, rallying to his defense, making speeches to the branches of the UNIA and lobbying for his release. In order to raise funds for his defense, she published two volumes of Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, a collection of his speeches and writings.
After Garvey’s release from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, Amy returned to Jamaica with him. They subsequently toured England, France and Germany, all the while continuing her writing as contributing editor of The Negro World. After Garvey's death in 1940, Amy continued the struggle for Black Nationalism, becoming contributing editor to The African, a journal published in Harlem in the 1940s, and founding the African Study Circle of the World in Jamaica toward the end of the decade. In 1944, she wrote her outstanding piece, "A Memorandum Correlative of Africa, West Indies and the Americas", which she sent to representatives of the UN pressing them to adopt an African Freedom Charter. In 1963, she published her own book, Garvey and Garveyism, and later published two collections of essays, Black Power in America and The Impact of Garvey in Africa and Jamaica.
On July 25, 1973, Amy Jacques Garvey died as she lived, active in the struggle for black empowerment and liberation
Coretta Scott King (1927-2006)
Coretta Scott King was an American civil rights activist and the wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. She established a distinguished career in activism in her own right.
Coretta Scott King was born Coretta Scott on April 27, 1927, in Marion, Alabama. She attended Lincoln High School, graduating 1945, and then enrolled at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where she received a BA in music and education. After graduating from Antioch, Coretta began taking courses at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, where she earned her second collegiate degree, in voice and violin, in the early 1950s. It was while she was attending the Conservatory of Music that Coretta met her future husband, Martin Luther King Jr., the famed civil rights leader who, at the time, was studying theology at Boston University. The couple married on June 18, 1953, and soon moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where King served as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and Coretta, subsequently, oversaw the various tasks of a pastor's wife. The Kings had four children Yolanda Denise King (1955–2007), Martin Luther King III (1957), Dexter Scott King (1961), Bernice Albertine King (1963). All four children later followed in their parents' footsteps as civil rights activists.
Working side-by-side with her husband throughout the 1950s and '60s, Coretta took part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, journeyed to Ghana to mark that nation's independence in 1957, traveled to India on a pilgrimage in 1959 and worked to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act, among other civil-rights-related work. Though best known for working alongside her husband, Coretta established a distinguished career in activism. Among many roles, she worked as a public mediator and as a liaison to peace and justice organizations. Following her husband's assassination, Coretta continued their work, broadened her focus to include women's rights, LGBT rights, economic issues, world peace, and various other causes. She founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, based in Atlanta, Georgia, serving as the center's president and chief executive officer from its inception. In 1980, a 23-acre site around Martin Luther King 's birthplace was designated for use by the King Center. The following year, a museum complex was dedicated on the site. She wrote regular articles on social issues and published a syndicated column, and was also a regular commentator on CNN. During the 1980s, Coretta Scott King reaffirmed her long-standing opposition to apartheid, participating in a series of sit-in protests in Washington, D.C. that prompted nationwide demonstrations against South African racial policies.
1. She received honorary degrees from many institutions, including Princeton University, Duke University, and Bates College. She was honored by both of her alma maters in 2004, receiving a Horace Mann Award from Antioch College and an Outstanding Alumni Award from the New England Conservatory of Music.
2. In 1970, the American Library Association began awarding a medal named for Coretta Scott King to outstanding African-American writers and illustrators of children's literature.
3. In 1978, Women's Way awarded King with their first Lucretia Mott Award for showing a dedication to the advancement of women and justice.
4. In 1997, Coretta Scott King was the recipient of the Academy of Achievement's Golden Plate Award.
5. In 2004, Coretta Scott King was awarded the prestigious Gandhi Peace Prize by the Government of India.
6. In 2006, the Jewish National Fund, the organization that works to plant trees in Israel, announced the creation of the Coretta Scott King forest in the Galilee region of Northern Israel, with the purpose of "perpetuating her memory of equality and peace", as well as the work of her husband.
7. In 2007, The Coretta Scott King Young Women's Leadership Academy (CSKYWLA) was opened in Atlanta, Georgia.
8. She was inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in 2009.
Menen Asfaw (1891-1962)
Over the years little has been written about the remarkable life of Empress Menen Asfaw , who was the wife of the last reigning Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Sellassie I. However, the citizens of her nation knew Empress Menen for her kindness and humanitarian outreach.
Empress Menen Asfaw, the last Empress consort of Ethiopia was born on March 25, 1891 and was herself of distant imperial lineage. She likely met her future husband at the home of her uncle Lij Iyasu and they immediately made a connection. Her family had earlier arranged for her marriage to another, but seeing the opportunity to establish closer ties with the man who would soon be the next Emperor Lij Iyasu made the arrangements for Menen Asfaw to marry Haile Selassie. The two were wed in early August of 1911. She was 20-years-old and the future Emperor was very impressed by her character and friendly disposition. In time Empress Menen Asfaw would give Emperor Haile Selassie six children; Princess Tenagnework, Prince Asfaw Wossen, Princess Tsehai, Princess Zenebework, Prince Makonnen and Prince Sahle Selassie.
When Haile Selassie became Emperor of Ethiopia his wife was crowned Empress alongside him. As consort, Empress Menen was very active and undertook a number of charitable duties focused on women, children and religious issues. She served as patroness of the Ethiopian Red Cross and the Ethiopian Women’s Charitable Organization. She also served as patroness of the Jerusalem Society which organized pilgrimages for Ethiopians to the Holy Land. Empress Menen was active in promoting women's issues in Ethiopia. She founded the Empress Menen School for Girls in Addis Ababa, the first all-girls school which had both boarding and day students. Girls from all over the Empire were brought to the school to receive a modern education, encouraged by the Empress who visited it often and presided over its graduation ceremonies. The Empress gave generously, as well as sponsored programs for the poor, ill and disabled. She was also a devoutly religious woman who did much to support the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. She built, renovated and endowed numerous churches in Ethiopia and in the Holy Land.
Following her death in 1962, the Empress was buried in the crypt of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa. Prime Minister Aklilu Hapte-Wold delivered her eulogy paying tribute to her charity, her piety, and her role as advisor and helpmate to the Emperor, as well as her personal kindness and goodness. On the third day memorial and commemoration after the funeral, the Emperor himself paid tribute to his wife by saying that during their five decades of marriage, not once had it been necessary to have a third party mediate between him and his wife, and that their marriage had been one of peace and mutual support.
As the wife of Haile Selassie, Empress Menen is highly venerated by members of the Rastafari movement.
The Black Woman by Marcus Garvey
Black queen of beauty, thou hast given color to the world!
Among other women thou art royal and the fairest!
Like the brightest of jewels in the regal diadem,
Shin’st thou, Goddess of Africa, Nature’s purest emblem!