Lola Jones may be a five-year-old, but she's already quite the activist.
As part of an educational and empowerment project created by her mother, Cristi Jones, Lola transformed herself to bear striking resemblance to some of
history's most admired black women
Lola's mother came up with the idea after her daughter was enthralled by a video on Martin Luther King, Jr. showed in school last month. She took that as an opportunity to teach her child more about civil rights during Black History Month.
It helped, too, that Lola loves to dress up.
"And it is extremely helpful that Lola truly emulates the women she's portraying," Cristi said. "She gets into character and just nails it."
With the aid of props from their home in Kent, Washington, a few newly bought wigs, a bonnet, her mother's cellphone, and an artsy eye, Lola was able to pay tribute to prominent black women.
Cristi Jones dresses up her daughter Lola to honor a different women each day in February to celebrate Black History Month. (Photos: Cristi Jones)
Misty Copeland did not begin dancing ballet until she was 13 years old, but was en pointe within 3 months, and by age 14, was winning solo parts. As she matured, she was "too curvy" and did not fit the stereotype of what a ballerina's body should look like. This did not stop her. In 2015, she became the first African American woman to be promoted to Principal Ballerina, the highest rank, in the 75 year history of the American Ballet Theatre; the first African American to be Principal Dancer in a major international dance company. She is also a model, has designed her own dancewear line, and has written several books, including a Children's book with messages of empowerment for young people of color. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Ms. Nina Simone concert pianist, with dreams of being a concert pianist, and attended Juilliard. With her distinct voice, and although she considered herself a pianist and not a singer, she made a name for herself in the jazz scene, and later used her talent and fame in Civil Rights activism. She performed at events like the March from Selma, and penned songs about the times, such as Mississippi Goddam, Old Jim Crow, and one of my favorites, Four Women. Despite mental illness and decline in later years, Ms. Simone's legacy lives on, and most are familiar with her version of Feeling Good, I Put a Spell on You, and Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)ttended Juilliard. With her distinct voice, and although she considered herself a pianist and not a singer, she made a name for herself in the jazz scene, and later used her talent and fame in Civil Rights activism. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Maya Angelou had a troubled childhood. At the age of 14, she was introduced to the works of Shakespeare; Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickenson, and more; they would later influence and inspire her works. During her young adulthood, Maya held numerous jobs, including working as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco, and as a Calypso Dancer, amongst other things. In 1959, she moved to New York to focus on her writing, and joined the Harlem Writers Guild. In 1960, she met Martin Luther King, Jr. and inspired by his words, organized the Cabaret for Freedom to benefit the SCLC, and was named the SCLC'S Northern Coordinator. From 1962-1965, Maya lived in Ghana, during which time she befriended Malcolm X, moving back to the US to help him organize a new Civil Rights organization, though he was assassinated shortly after. She also rekindled her friendship with the incredible James Baldwin during this time, someone who would prove to be a rock for her. In 1968, she was asked by Martin Luther King, Jr to organize a march, but he was assassinated before she ever did so. Her devastation served as a creative catalyst, and in 1969, she wrote her iconic autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. During the years that followed, Ms. Angelou added credits to her name through much more writing, acting, directing, and was named visiting professor at numerous colleges and Universities. In 1981, she became a full time professor at Wake Forest University. Over her career, Maya was awarded a Pulitzer Prize nomination, a Tony award, 3 Grammys, served on 2 presidential committees, and was awarded numerous medals, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was awarded over 50 honorary degrees. Ms. Maya Angelou passed away in 2014, but she has inspired countless people, and her works are still used as teaching aids. Her body of work will continue to inspire many generations to come. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Born Isabella Baumfree, she was born into slavery in New York, around 1797. At the age of 9, she was sold, changing "ownership" 4 times, in the span of about 4 years. During her time as a slave for her 4th owner, she married another slave and bore 5 children. Slavery was being slowly abolished in New York (it happened over a span of 28 years) but her slave owner reneged on his promise to emancipate her. Isabella then escaped to freedom with her infant daughter, forced to leave her other children behind, because they were legally bound as servants into their 20's. She was taken in by a couple who paid the rest of her service off. After being freed, she learned that her 5 yr old son had been sold illegally to a slave owner in Alabama, and fought to get him back. She became one of the first black women to take a white man to court and win. In 1843, Isabella changed her name to Sojourner Truth, stating, "The Spirit calls me, so I must go," and began to travel, preaching about the abolition of slavery. In 1850, she dicated her memoirs, as she could not read or write. The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave was then published. She began to tour and speak to large audiences about slavery and human rights. In 1851, she gave her famous speech, which would be known as the "Ain't I a Woman?" speech, at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention. Sojourner rose to prominence as a leader in the abolitionist movement, drawing large crowds. She used her reputation to help recruit black Union troops during the Civil War. Even after the Emancipation Proclamation, she kept up the fight, seeking desegregation in street cars in Washington. For the rest of her life, she spoke out about women's rights, universal suffrage, and prison reform. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Rosa Parks is a name we all know, and for good reason! She was born in 1913 in Alabama. By 1943, Rosa became active in the Civil Rights movement, serving as Secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. In 1955, the horrifying murder of 14 year old Emmitt Till occurred, and his murderers were acquitted and walked free. Her anger at this injustice, as well as the segregation and Jim Crow laws permeating the South, would set the tone for the events of December 1. On December 1, 1955, riding home from work on public transit in the "colored section" of the bus, Rosa was told by the driver to give up her seat, to make more room for white passengers. Rosa refused. She was arrested, charged with disorderly conduct and violating segregation laws. Rosa was bailed out by a friend and by Edgar Nixon, President of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. Using Rosa's act of defiance as a catalyst for change, Nixon organized a boycott of Montgomery buses with leaflets detailing the boycott distributed the day of her trial. (Rosa was found guilty but would later appeal the conviction and formally challenge the legality of segregation.) The Montgomery Bus Boycott was continued for 381 days, greatly hurting the finances of the transit company, until the city repealed its segregation law regarding buses, following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Browder v. Gale, declaring it unconstitutional. Rosa's simple act of courage served as a spark for change, and she became a face of the Civil Rights movement. Despite losing her job because of her activism, she continued to travel and speak for the cause. She was an active participant all through the Civil Rights movement, inspiring people until her death in 2005. She will continue to inspire generations to come. Ms. Parks has more honors than I can list, but she is a wonderful example of standing up, (or in her case, sitting down) for what's right. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Bessie Coleman was the 10th child of 13, born to sharecroppers in Texas. She loved to read, was an outstanding math student, and managed to attend one term of college before running out of money. In 1916, at the age of 23, Bessie moved to Chicago, where she heard pilots returning from WWI talking about flying. This motivated Bessie to work 2 jobs to save enough money to become a pilot. The problem was, that in America, neither blacks nor women were permitted to attend flight school. So, she secured financial backing, and went to France, and on June 15, 1921, became the first black woman to obtain a pilot's license, and international aviation license. She spent 2 more months taking lessons from a French ace pilot before returning to the US, where she was welcomed as a media sensation. This was well before commercial flight, so in order to make a living, she became a stunt flier. Wanting to broaden her skills, but unable to find anyone in America willing to teach her, she returned to Europe. She learned from highly skilled pilots and returned to the states as an exhibition flier. For the next 5 years, she was a star, hailed as "Queen Bess" and inspired many. In 1926, due to a poorly maintained plane/malfunction, Bessie tragically crashed and was killed. But her legacy lived on. Bessie inspired William Powell to found the Bessie Coleman Aero Club in 1929, noting that she broke down racial barriers, and the barriers in oneself, allowing them to dream. Since her death, Bessie has had a school and a library named after her, numerous airport roads, has scholarships in her name, is memorialized on a US Postage stamp, and is in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. She's widely regarded as a pioneer and one of the greatest female pilots. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Dr. Mae Jemison is an engineer, medical doctor, and NASA astronaut. She was the first African American woman to go to space, when she went into orbit on the Endeavor in 1992. Born in 1956, at a very young age, Mae had an interest in all things science related. At a time when girls were not encouraged to pursue science, and around the time of the Apollo landing, Mae was frustrated at the lack of female astronauts. Mae began dancing at age 11, and considered pursuing it as a career, but decided to pursue medicine instead. She graduated high school and entered Stanford University at only 16 years old!! She served as the head of the Black Student Union, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering. She then attended Cornell Medical College, where she received her Doctor of Medicine degree. During her time in medical school, she traveled abroad to provide medical care in other countries. She also opened a dance studio in her home, never forgetting her love of dance. After graduating, Mae became a General Practitioner. She served as a Peace Corps Medical Officer from 1983-1985. During this time, inspired by the flight of Sally Ride, and seeing an opportunity for women astronauts, Mae applied for the NASA astronaut program. She was accepted in 1987. In 1992, she accomplished her dream of going to space. In 1993, Mae resigned from NASA, and founded her own company, dedicated to research, marketing, and developing science and technology for daily life, as well as a foundation in her mother's name. Mae still speaks and encourages young people to pursue science and technology, and has received numerous awards. She is in the National Women's Hall of Fame, the International Space Hall of Fame, has institutions named after her, and holds 9 honorary doctorates. She has also made TV appearances, such as her role on Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress, and the first woman to run for President for the Democratic Party. Shirley was born in New York in 1924 to immigrants from the Caribbean, one of four daughters. Shirley earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Brooklyn University where she was a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, and won prizes for her debate skills. She then earned her Master of Arts from Columbia University, while teaching in a nursery school. She was considered an authority on early education and child welfare. During this time, she developed an interest in politics. Ms. Chisholm was a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly from 1965-1968, sitting in the 175th, 176th, and 177th New York State Legislatures, where she was successful in getting unemployment benefits extended to domestic workers. In 1968, she was elected Democratic National Committeewoman for New York. 1968 is also when she ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, with the slogan "Unbossed and Unbought," and became the first black woman elected to Congress. Shirley was assigned to the House Agricultural Committee, which she was displeased with, but used her assignment to make positive changes, such as expanding the food stamp program, and played a critical role in the development of the WIC program. She was then placed on the Veterans Affairs Committee, and later, the Education and Labor Committee. In 1971, she was one of the founding members of both the Congressional Black Caucus, and the National Women's Political Caucus. In 1972, Shirley became the first woman ever to run for President on a major party ticket, as well as the first black major party Presidential candidate, although her campaign was underfunded and poorly executed. Her Presidential run proved to be unsuccessful, though she did have an ethnically diverse support base, among which was Gloria Steinem.
Mary McLeod Bethune is known as "The First Lady of the Struggle" due to her lifelong endeavors to better the lives of African Americans. She was born in 1875 to former slaves, and as the 15th of 17 children, she was the only one to attend school; however she would teach her family everything she learned. With the help of benefactors, she was able to attend college. Mary became a teacher, got married, and moved to Florida. She was determined to open a school for girls, and did so, starting from literally nothing. She began with 6 students, who sat on crates and used burnt sticks as pencils. Donations began to come in from local black churches, and within a year, she was teaching 30 students at the Literary & Industrial Training School for Negro Girls. She was able to secure donations from white benefactors, allowing the school to grow, and eventually merge with a boys school, becoming Bethune-Cookman University. She served as the President of the University for many years. She also became the National President of the National Association of Colored Women. She established headquarters in Washington, DC, which was the first black controlled organization in DC. Mary served as an advisor to 5 presidents in her life, holding government positions under Presidents Coolidge and Roosevelt. She was a close personal friend of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She also served as Assistant Director of the Women's Army Corps. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame, has a memorial erected in her honor, is on a US Postage stamp, has a crater on Venus named after her, schools across the nation are named after her, and her houses in Florida and Washington, DC are National Historic Sites. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Ida Wells was born in Mississippi just before slavery was ended. Her father was active in the Reconstruction, becoming interested in politics, and even attending Shaw University before dropping out to help his family. Ida also attended Shaw, before getting expelled after confronting the college president. This tenacity would be characteristic of her life. In 1878, at the age of 16, both of Ida's parents and her baby brother died from Yellow Fever. In order to keep herself and her 5 siblings together and out of foster care, she worked as a teacher at an all black elementary school, while her grandmother helped watch her siblings. Ida resented segregation and the fact that she only made $30/month, while white teachers made $80/month. This made her become more interested in racial politics and black education. Ida later moved herself and 3 siblings to Memphis, TN, where she would be paid more, and was able to attend summer sessions at Fisk University. She was truly progressive and provoked others with her thoughts on women's rights. In 1884, Ida was told by a train conductor to give up her first class seat, and to move to the crowded smoking car. She refused to do so. She was forcibly removed from the train, which prompted her to sue the railroad. She won! However, it was appealed, and she was ordered to pay court costs, which further hardened her resolve for justice and equality. While still teaching, Ida became a newspaper editor, and later a co-owner and editor of an anti-segregation newspaper. Because of her articles criticizing the conditions of black schools, she was fired from teaching. During this time, 3 of Ida's friends were lynched by a mob, prompting her foray into investigative journalism. She began investigating lynchings, and published her findings. She traveled and spoke about the issues, but because of death threats, Ida left Memphis and moved to Chicago.
Madam CJ Walker was an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist. She is remembered as a self made millionaire, and one of the most successful black business owners. Born in 1867, in Delta, LA, Sarah Breedlove was the 5th of 6 children, but the first child to be born free, after the Emancipation Proclamation. She was orphaned at the age of 7, and by age 14, she married for the first time. In 1885, she had a daughter. When her husband died 2 years later, she moved to St. Louis, where her brothers lived, working as barbers. She began to learn about hair care from them. Sarah began working for Annie Turnbo Malone in 1905, a successful black haircare entrepreneur, as a commission agent. She moved to Denver, and using the knowledge she'd gleaned, began developing her own hair care products. During this time, she remarried a man named Charles J. Walker, who worked in advertising. He encouraged her to brand herself as 'Madam CJ Walker" and together they traveled to promote her products and methods, which included her own shampoo and pomade, and brushing and using heated combs. She sold her products door to door, and began a mail order system. As the profits increased, Sarah and Charles moved to Pittsburgh, where they opened Lelia College, a beauty school named after her daughter. Sarah moved to Indianapolis in 1910, setting up headquarters. She would open a factory, hair salon, a laboratory for research, and a beauty school to train her sales agents. It is believed that Sarah was among the first to hold a national convention for her sales agents. In 1913, Sarah and Charles divorced, and she began traveling to Latin America and the Caribbean, promoting her business. In 1916, she moved to New York. She became more involved in political matters, joining the NAACP, and lecturing at black sponsored conventions. In 1919, she died at 51. Her worth at that time is estimated to be around $8 million present day dollars. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Katherine Johnson, "The Human Computer," is a mathematician and physicist, known as a pioneer for black women in the STEM fields. Katherine was born in 1918, in West Virginia, and proved to be extremely gifted with numbers at an early age, finishing 8th grade at the age of 10. In her hometown, black students were not given the opportunity to go to high school, so her parents moved the family to Institute, West Virginia, where she was able to graduate at just 14 years old. She then attended West Virginia State College, a historically black college, where she took every math class offered, even having courses added just for her. She graduated summa cum laude, with degrees in math and French, at only 18. She then began teaching at a black public school. In 1939, Katherine was chosen, as the first black woman, to integrate the graduate school at West Virginia University. Katherine decided to pursue a career as a research mathematician, first teaching, then later was hired by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, which would later become NASA.) She was quickly transferred to the flight research division, staffed by white male engineers, and from 1953-58 she worked as a "computer," achieving success. From 1958, when NACA reformed as NASA, until her retirement in 1986, Katherine worked as an aerospace technologist. She calculated the trajectory of the space flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space; calculated the launch window for his Mercury mission; was used to verify the calculations by early electronic computers, being asked for by name to verify them by John Glenn, before his orbit around Earth; performed calculations for the Apollo 11 moon landing; and helped with contingency procedures that led to the safe return of the crew of the Apollo 13 mission. She helped develop NASA'S Space Shuttle program, and Earth Resources Satellite. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Daisy Bates was born in 1914, in Arkansas. She was raised by a friend of her father, who left the family after her mother's death. Her mother was murdered by 3 white men, and never received justice. This set the tone for Daisy's activism throughout her life. After moving to Little Rock, Daisy and her husband were able to lease a printing plant and start up their own newspaper, the Arkansas State Press, devoted heavily to civil rights. The first issue was published in 1941. Daisy served as the President of the Arkansas Branches of Conference for the NAACP. Because of her position, she received many threats, twice having burning crosses placed on her property by the KKK. Despite the 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that made segregation in schools illegal, schools in Arkansas refused to allow black students to enroll. Because there had been no progress, the court ordered integration of schools as of September 1957. Nine black high school students, known as the Little Rock Nine, were selected to attend Central High School. When they tried to enroll, they were met by the National Guard and angry white mobs, barring their entry. Daisy began planning a way to get the students into the school, acting as an advocate and mentor to the students. It took President Eisenhower ordering the National Guard and the 101st Airborne Division to ensure the integration was successful for it to happen. Because of her crucial role in the Little Rock Integration Crisis, white advertisers boycotted her newspaper to cut off funding, causing the newspaper to fold in 1959. In the years that followed, Daisy worked for the Democratic National Committee, and served in President Johnson's administration, working on anti poverty programs. She also helped establish a self help program in her community in Arkansas, which provided new sewer systems, paved streets, a water system and community center. She was also able to revive her newspaper and sell it. Photo credit: Kayleigh Stefanko Photography
Nikki Giovanni is recognized as one of the world's most well known black poets, and is a professor, activist, and commentator. Born in 1943, Nikki grew up near Cincinnati, OH. She graduated from Fisk University with a Bachelor's degree in History. After graduating, she returned to Cincinnati and established the city's first Black Arts Festival. She attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. She began teaching at Livingston College at Rutgers University in 1969. Nikki rose to prominence in the late 1960's with her writing, as one of the foremost authors of the Black Arts Movement. By the 1970's, she had established herself as a leading poetic voice. She has written over 2 dozen books, with her poetry often written in her signature style- free of traditional stanza breaks and without capitalization or punctuation. Her themes often include race and social issues, and sometimes even nature, her observations, and surviving cancer. She has also written a number of children's books. Ms. Giovanni began teaching at Virginia Tech in 1987, where she is a University Distinguished Professor. Nikki holds over 20 honorary doctorates, has received numerous awards for her works, and holds the key to several cities, amongst many other honors. She was the first person to receive the Rosa L. Parks Women of Courage Award, and was named one of the Library of Virginia's "Virginia Women in History" for her contributions to poetry, education and society. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Araminta Ross was born a slave in the 1820's, in Maryland. As a child she was subjected often to beatings and physical violence at the hands of masters, even suffering head trauma from a 2 lb weight being thrown at her head. She would experience headaches, epileptic seizures and dream like visions for the rest of her life. In Maryland at this time, there were a good number of freed slaves, and Araminta would marry a free man named John Tubman, changing her first name to Harriet, her mother's name. After a bout of illness and the death of her owner, she feared for her fate as a sickly slave with little economic value. Thus, she and 2 of her brothers escaped, with a $300 reward being offered for their return. Her brothers went back, forcing Harriet with them. She then escaped alone, making use of the Underground Railroad to go 90 miles on foot to Pennsylvania, traveling only by night, with the North Star to guide her. After successfully freeing herself, Harriet would risk her life and freedom to go back and make the trek all over again, many times, to lead dozens of slaves, including members of her family, to freedom. Her husband declined to come with her, having remarried and being content to stay where he was. After the Fugitive Slave law was passed, which stated that escaped slaves and free blacks in the North could be captured and returned to slavery, Harriet rerouted the Underground Railroad to Canada, where she led more slaves to freedom. During the Civil War, Harriet helped recruit Union soldiers, served as a nurse and cook for the Union Army, became an armed scout and spy, and became the first woman to lead an armed assault in the War. The raid resulted in more than 750 slaves being freed. Harriet Tubman's courage and life of service is memorialized in many ways, including monuments, a Liberty Ship and an asteroid that were named in her honor, and plans of placing her portrait on the $20 bill, beginning in 2020. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Ella Baker was an activist and unsung hero of the Civil Rights movement, with her work being largely behind the scenes. Born in 1903, Ella grew up hearing stories about her grandmother's life as a slave. When she was older, she attended Shaw University, often challenging that which she thought was unjust. She graduated as class valedictorian in 1927. After stints on the editorial staff of newspapers, in 1931, she became the national director of the Young Negros' Cooperative League, which sought to develop black economic power. Ella also worked for the Works Progress Administration, teaching consumer education, labour history and African History. She was inspired by the Harlem Renaissance, and founded the Negro History Club at the Harlem Library, as well as being involved with the YWCA. In 1940, Ella became a field secretary for the NAACP, traveling to raise funds and recruit members. She was known for being able to connect the people, making friends wherever she went. She would become the national director of branches, before resigning in 1946 to take care of her niece. However, she stayed active in her local New York chapter, working on issues such as police brutality and desegregation, and became president in 1952. In 1957, Ella joined the SCLC, at the request of MLK, Jr. She helped initiate voter registration campaigns, and set up the event that led to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and would later organize the historic "Freedom rides" of 1961. She acted as mentor to young activists, including Diane Nash and Stokely Carmichael. Ella continued to fight for social justice and equality for the rest of her life, including supporting the "Free Angela" campaign, speaking out for the Puerto Rican independence movement, and against South African apartheid. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Anti-miscegenation laws in place meant that blacks and whites could not legally marry. At the age of 18, Mildred became pregnant. She and her love, Richard, lived in Virginia, where interracial marriage was prohibited. To get around this, they traveled to Washington, D.C. and got married. After an anonymous tip on July 11, 1958, police raided the Loving's home while they slept in their bed. When they showed the police their marriage certificate, they were told it was not valid, and arrested. They pled guilty to "cohabitating as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth," and were sentenced to a year in prison. The sentence was suspended on the condition that the couple leave Virginia and not return together for a minimum of 25 years. The Lovings relocated to Washington, D.C. after their conviction, where they would have 3 children. By 1963, fed up with having to visit their family in Virginia separately, and with the Civil Rights movement gaining traction, Mildred wrote to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy for assistance. He referred her to the ACLU, which accepted their case and provided attorneys, who filed to have the the original ruling overturned. This was unsuccessful, and the case ultimately went to the Supreme Court. The Lovings' legal team made the case that the state Anti-miscegenation law went against the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. On June 12, 1967, the court ruled unanimously in their favor, overturning Virginia's law, and effectively ending the ban on interracial marriage in other states. Mildred and Richard were able to move home to Virginia and raise their children, staying together until Richard's death at the hands of a drunk driver in 1975. Mildred died in 2008. (Photo: Kayleigh Stefanko Photography)
Angela Davis is a political activist, scholar, and author. Imagine that you live in Birmingham, Alabama, in a neighborhood nicknamed Dynamite Hill, which earned it's name because being black in this neighborhood made your home a target for bombings. That you always had to be prepared to hit the floor as bullets came through windows, because you were black. To imagine this is to understand the neighborhood Angela Davis grew up in. Angela's mother was an officer and organizer of the Southern Negro Youth Congress, influenced by the Communist party, which influenced Angela's way of thinking. Even as a Girl Scout, Angela picketed and protested segregation. She later pursued higher education, traveling abroad in college. While in Paris, she was devastated to learn of the Birmingham Church bombing, killing 4 girls that her family knew. Angela became assistant professor of philosophy at UCLA. She would later lose her position because of her personal and political views. Angela had also taken a great interest in prison reform, getting involved with the "Soledad Brothers," inmates in a controversial case at the time. Tragically, the brother of one of the inmates would go on to take over the courtroom, resulting in the death of the judge, himself and 2 inmates. Because the guns used were registered to Angela, she was placed on the FBI'S Most Wanted list, and after her capture, spent 16 months in prison, awaiting trial. Across the nation, people rallied for her release, inspiring musicians such as The Rolling Stones, and John Lennon & Yoko Ono to pen songs in her honor. She would be found 'not guilty' by an all white jury. In the years following her release, Angela ran for Vice-President of the US on the Communist ticket, before her group later broke away from the Communist party. She would become a professor at numerous Universities, continuing her activism. She has written 5 books, and continues to travel as an acclaimed speaker. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Born a slave in 1818, Biddy was separated from her mother and given as a wedding present to slave owner Robert Smith. Mormon missionaries were proselytizing in Mississippi at the the time, and Robert and his family converted. In 1848, they decided to make the trek to Utah to join the main body of Mormons, taking their slaves with them. Biddy was 30 by this time. She made the 1700 mile journey on foot, walking behind a 300 wagon caravan. She acted as nurse and midwife, herded cattle, cooked the meals, and took care of her 3 young daughters. After making it to Utah, they lived there for 3 years, before Robert and his family set out for California, to establish a new Mormon community, willfully ignorant that California was a free state. They arrived in San Bernardino, where he illegally kept his slaves until 1855. By then, he feared losing his slaves, so he decided to take them with him to Texas, a slave state, with the intention of selling them. Biddy feared being separated from her children, so she and other slaves tried to escape, but were caught. The sheriff of LA County was notified, and he rounded up a posse and took the slaves into protective custody. Biddy then petitioned the court for her freedom. She won freedom for herself and 13 other women and girls, including her daughters. 10 years after winning her freedom, she became one of the first black women to own land in LA, buying a parcel for $250. That parcel was in what is now the commercial district in the heart of LA. Continuing to make wise business and real estate decisions, Biddy amassed a fortune of nearly $300,000, despite being illiterate. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Toni Morrison is a highly acclaimed prize-winning author, editor, and Professor Emerita. Chloe Wofford was born in 1931, in Lorain, OH. She loved to read, and Tolstoy and Jane Austen were amongst her favorites. Becoming Catholic at age 12, she received the baptismal name "Anthony," prompting the nickname "Toni." Toni would graduate high school with honors, then enroll at Howard University, earning her B.A. in English, before earning her Master's at Cornell University. Following college, Toni taught English at Texas Southern University for 2 years, then at Howard for 7 years. She married Harold Morrison during this time, and had 2 children. After her divorce in 1964, she became an editor, ending up in New York City, working for Random House as senior trade-book editor. She edited books for such people as Angela Davis and Muhammad Ali. Toni would go on to write her first novel in 1970, titled The Bluest Eye. While it didn't sell well at the time, it would later become a bestseller. She continued writing novels, known for her exquisite words, and epic, often heavy, themes. Her book, Sula, would win the National Book Award, and Song of Solomon was chosen as Book of the Month, the first by a black author since 1940. Toni was appointed to the National Council on the Arts in 1980, and in 1987, her most well known book, Beloved, was published. It would earn her the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, amongst other awards, and later be adapted as a film, starring Oprah and Thandie Newton. In 1993, she became the first black woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature. In 2007, an opera she wrote debuted at the New York City Opera. Her most recent book, God Help the Child, was published in 2015. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Josephine Baker, known as the Black Pearl, is recognized as the first black entertainer to be an international star and first to star in a major motion picture. Born in 1906, Josephine had a very poor and difficult childhood. At the age of 16, she began dancing in a traveling show, working Vaudeville, and performing in New York, where she was a part of the Harlem Renaissance. Her popularity allowed her to travel to Paris to perform, which would become her new home, with Josephine giving up her U.S. citizenship to become a French National. Josephine rose to prominence as a singer and dancer in France, becoming the star she would never have had the opportunity to become in America. A later visit to the U.S. to perform at The Ziegfield Follies showed this, as she was treated as a second class citizen and her performance criticized. Despite this, she was a favorite of such artists as Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo, and authors such as E.E. Cummings and Ernest Hemingway. During WWII, Josephine became a Red Cross nurse, and later an underground courier for the French Resistance, using her status to gain intel from people she " rubbed shoulders with." She was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her efforts during the war. Josephine was eventually invited back to the U.S. for a national tour, successfully demanding that her audiences be integrated. She was named NAACP'S Woman of the Year, and was finally getting recognition and acclaim in the U.S. before an event where she criticized the Stork Club in Manhattan for discrimination, resulting in a smear campaign against her, her work visa being revoked and having to return to France. Despite this, she continued to work with the NAACP and the Civil Rights movement, even speaking at the March on Washington alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)
Born in 1954, at just 6 years old, Ruby Bridges became the first black child to attend an all white elementary school (William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans) in the segregated South. In Kindergarten, Ruby was one of only 6 black students to pass the difficult test given to determine whether she could attend a white school. She was the only one chosen to go to William Frantz Elementary that fall, which was only 5 blocks from her home. On November 14, 1960, escorted by 4 federal marshals, Ruby arrived for her first day at her new school. She was met by an angry mob. They hurled objects and insults at her. She spent her entire first day in the principal's office, with classes canceled because of her arrival. Parents kept their white children home, not wanting them to attend school with a black child, and the teachers refused to teach her. Only one teacher, named Barbara Henry, a recent transplant from Boston, was willing to teach Ruby. For the year, Ruby was taught by Ms. Henry as the only student in the class. Ruby was escorted by the marshals everywhere she went, including walking her to the restroom, because of threats made against her. On her second day of school, a woman threatened to poison Ruby, so she was only permitted to eat food brought from home, for her safety. The hate she experienced was intense, but despite it all, one of the marshals commented that Ruby was incredibly brave, never crying. She received counseling from a child psychologist once a week. The backlash against Ruby attending the school manifested in other ways as well. Her father lost his job, and her grandparents were sent away from the land they'd sharecropped for 25 years. They were banned from their local grocery store. But over time, white students went back to school, and the unrest began to die down. In her2nd year, more black children were enrolled, Ruby no longer needed her escorts, things resumed as usual, and Ruby would go on to graduate. (Photo & Caption courtesy: Cristi Jones)