By Progress for Today
Women’s History Month is a month reserved to celebrate the triumphs of women. Women in the past, and today, are treated very differently from their male counterparts. Women have been stereotyped for years. Many men-dominated jobs have recently put women in some positions. For example, Kamala Harris was recently elected Vice-President of the United States. After 48 vice presidents, Kamala Harris was elected. It took decades and decades for women to become scientists, engineers, directors, gamers (yes, even gamers), any role in business companies, any role in government, and many more. I’ll be sharing the life stories of different women, and the changes they made in the world.
Shirley Chisholm was the first African-American woman to be elected into congress in 1968. She was also the first woman and African-American to seek the nomination in one of the two major parties in a presidential election. She wrote an autobiography expressing her advocacy for minorities and women. Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 30, 1924. She was the oldest daughter of four and was the daughter of immigrants. Her father, Charles St. Hill, was a factory worker from Guyana. Her mother, Ruby Seale St. Hill, was a seamstress from Barbados. In college, she earned many awards on the debate team. Many of her professors told her to follow the path of politics, but she always said that with her being a woman and black that it was going to be difficult. She worked as a nursery school teacher and got married in 1949 to Conrad Q. Chisholm (but they later got divorced in 1977). Conrad was a private investigator. In 1951, she earned her master’s degree in early childhood education from Columbia University. While working as a consultant to the New York City Division of Day Care, Chisholm joined the League of Women Voters, the Democratic Party Club in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Urban League.
She ran and was elected the second African-American in the New York State Legislature in 1964. Then in 1968, she won a seat in congress. In Congress, she introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation. In 1971, Chisholm was a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus. She then became the first black woman, and second woman overall, to serve on the House Rules Committee. She then got married again to a New York Legislator, Arthur Hardwick Jr. When she decided to run for president, all she was met with was discrimination. They wouldn’t let her participate in the televised primary debates, and (after taking legal action) she was allowed to make one speech. After she retired from Congress in 1983, she decided to teach at Mount Holyoke College. She also co-founded the National Political Congress of Black Women. After moving to Florida in 1991, she was nominated to become the U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica, but due to health issues, she had to decline. Chisholm died in her home in Florida on January 1, 2005, due to several strokes.
Cicely Tyson was an award-winning television, stage, and film actress. She was born on December 19, 1924, in New York City, but she grew up in Harlem, New York. She denied a typing job to pursue a modeling career at age 18. Through this modeling career, Tyson was attracted to acting. She wasn’t allowed to see plays or watch movies as a child, so when her mother found out about this she said that Tyson was following a sinful path. She then proceeded to kick her out of the house (they later made up after two years of not talking to each other). Tyson was very successful in the acting career, and in 1963, she was the first African-American star on the drama series East Side/West Side. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her acting in Sounder. She won two Emmy Awards in 1974 for her lead role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. She also starred in the Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All and won her third Emmy for her supporting role. Tyson didn’t pick every role she was offered though, she never took roles just for a paycheck. She chose her roles carefully, requiring that each role chosen had a purpose.
She worked on multiple Tyler Perry movies, and (after 30 years) returned to Broadway. She even traveled to Texas to further understand the background of the stories. All of her hard work paid off when she won a Tony Award for best performance by an actress in a leading role in a play. She was married to Miles Davis for seven years around the 1980s. Tyson was also very involved in helping communities. After Marin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, she co-founded the Dance Theater of Harlem. She also agreed to have a performing arts school in East Orange, New Jersey be named after her, as long as they let her participate in the school’s activities as well. She won multiple awards and nominations for acting, and then in 1977 proceeded to become a member of the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. The Congress of Racial Equality and the National Council of Negro Women honored her. The NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) honored her with its 95th Spingarn Medal (this award is given to African-Americans that have reached very high levels of achievement). In 2015, she was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, then in 2016, she was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by none other than the former President Barack Obama. On January 28, 2021, Cicely Tyson passed away. She lived a long life with so many breathtaking achievements.
Maya Angelou was an artist in more ways than one. She was a poet, singer, dancer, and author. She’s best known for her autobiographical style of writing. On April 4, 1928, Marguerite Annie Johnson was born in St. Louis, Missouri. At an early age, her parents divorced, and she went to go live in Stamps, Arkansas with her paternal grandmother, Bailey. Angelou’s older brother gave her the nickname “Maya”. Angelo returned to her mother’s care for a short amount of time when she was seven years old. While there, her mother’s boyfriend assaulted Maya, and he was later put in jail, then was later killed when he was released. Angelou believed that her confession was the reason that he was killed, so she became mute for six years. While living through her teens, she went back to live with her grandmother. She was very interested in writing. Through various years of her childhood, it was very obvious that she enjoyed writing. She wrote assortments of things like poetry and essays. She even kept a writing journal and memorized different works by Poe and Shakespeare. She moved back with her mom in Oakland, California, and took dance and drama courses at the California Labor School, which was before the start of World War II. When the war started, she applied for the Women’s Army Corps. Her application was rejected because of her relations with the California Labor School, people said it had Communist ties. Even though this was a bump in the road, she was determined to get employed. It would be a lot harder because she was 15 years old. She chose to apply as a streetcar conductor but was declined many times. It took three weeks until she was accepted for the position. She had to lie on her application and say she was nineteen because she was underaged. Angelou was the first African-American woman to work as a conductor of streetcars in San Francisco. She worked for a semester, then returned to school. While in her last year of high school, she became pregnant and gave birth to her son very soon after graduating.
She took part in civil rights activities after graduating. Angelou was the northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (originally known as the Southern Leadership Conference). Martin Luther King Jr. created this organization in 1957. This organization advocated for the rights of African-Americans in the U.S. African-American writers formed the Harlem Writers Guild to support the publication of black authors in the 1950s. She participated as one of the Guild’s earliest members. This was the time where she wrote some of her most famous works. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an autobiography that she published in 1969. That same year, she was nominated for the National Book Award. Angelou has also written multiple poetry books. Her first poetry book was titled Just Give me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie. She also recorded spoken albums of her poetry. She won a Grammy for Best Spoken Album in 1994. The poem “On the Pulse of the Morning” was delivered at and written for President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. She also won a Grammy in 1996 and 2003 for her spoken poetry albums.
Angelou became the first African-American woman to have a film be made from her screenplay in 1972. She also played some supporting roles in her later films. The films Roots in 1977 and Look Away in 1973 helped earn her Tony nominations. Angelou has given multiple commencement speeches and numerous honorary degrees have been given to her. She died on May 28, 2014, and the US Postal Service issued stamps to honor her in 2015.