5 Black Women Historical Figures from Around the World You Should Know

by Bee Quammie

As we celebrate what’s left of Black History Month and look forward to Women’s History Month, it’s important to remember that Black women around the globe have made incredible contributions to world history. From Brazil to the United Kingdom and everywhere else, Black women have done incredible things, created incredible things, and have been incredible people. Take a passport-free journey through time and geography and get to know about 5 such women.

Queen Nanny of the Maroons (est. 1680s - 1730s)

An artists' depiction of Queen Nanny (Source: Unknown)

An Akan/Asante woman sold into slavery and brought to Jamaica, Queen Nanny has long been upheld as a figure of strength and rebellion in the Caribbean country. Nanny escaped from her plantation and took to Jamaica’s Blue Mountain region where she founded Nanny Town, a free village for Maroons - a cultural mix of African slaves and indigenous Arawak natives who refused to submit to British colonization. Nanny is revered for freeing an estimated 1000 Jamaican slaves, being a skilled warrior, possessing supernatural powers, and creating a stable community based on farming and trading. She was killed around 1733 during a battle with colonial enemies, and is recognized as Jamaica’s only female National Hero.

Olive Morris (1952 - 1979)

Photo: Black British Activist Olive Morris

Olive Morris only lived to the age of 27, but left a huge mark on the UK before her untimely death. A feminist, community leader, and political activist, Morris co-founded the Organization of Women of African and Asian Descent and Brixton Black Women’s Group (among many other community organizations), and was an integral part of Britain’s Black Panther Party. Fighting against police brutality, gender-based violence, and racial inequality, as well as advocating for squatter’s rights, Morris left a lasting legacy in England before succumbing to non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 1979.

Marie-Joseph Angélique (? - 1734)

Kit Lang's mixed media depiction of Marie-Joseph Angélique title Incendiary

Born in Madeira, Portugal, Marie-Joseph Angélique was sold into slavery and brought to North America at the age of 15, eventually settling in what is now called Montreal. Known for her fiery, stubborn temperament, Marie-Joseph was tried and eventually found guilty of setting a fire that destroyed over 40 buildings. After her trial, she was tortured, hanged, then her body burned and ashes scattered. Was Marie-Joseph wrongly accused? Or was her final act of rebellion a cry for freedom found in that fire? Historians have differing opinions, but what is agreed upon is that Marie-Joseph Angélique tells the often unknown story of slavery in Canada.

Chica da Silva (1732 - 1796)

Afro-Brazilian actress Taís Araújo starring as the title character in the telenovela Xica da Silva

Chica (alsa spelled Xica) da Silva  was a Brazilian woman born into slavery, but who utilized her smarts and romantic relationships to position herself as one of the wealthiest, most powerful women in Tijuco, one of the most largest diamond towns in the world. After being sold to diamond mine owner João Fernandes de Oliveira, the two began a romance which resulted in him granting her freedom. Even when de Oliveira eventually left Brazil for Portugal, da Silva still held her position of prestige, gaining access to levels of society that were generally off-limits for Afro-Brazilian women. In 1996, a telenovela of Chica’s life aired on the now defunct network Rede Manchete starring Taís Araújo. This was the first time an Afro-Brazilian actress played a lead role on a television program.

Amina Sukhera (? - 1610)

Artist's depiction of Amina Sukhera (Source: Unknown)
Amina Sukhera was a Hausa Muslim warrior queen of the royal family of Zazzau, in what is now modern-day northern Nigeria. Amina is mentioned in certain historical documents, but oral history tells her story as one of a powerful woman who expanded Zazzau territory with fierce battle skills and strategic military engagements. Amina is also credited with introducing the cultivation of kola nuts in the region in which she ruled, which helped to develop farming and agriculture.

I hope this article inspires you to learn about other Black women who impacted history other corners of the world. The Diaspora is full of rich stories about women that prove that our reach, power, and influence cannot and will not be restricted by geographical borders.

Bee Quammie is regular contributor to For Harriet.

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