African American Women in History

Harriet Tubman

African American women leaders shape and create the fabric of America. Their contributions are stellar, significant, life enriching and enduring.

As with other leaders, African American women visionaries, inventors and community champions prove that no one is an island. They are proof that no one succeeds all on their own. Many of their successes came with great struggle.

Overcoming Great Struggle to Achieve Even Greater Success

It is not uncommon for people to feel alone while they experience financial, emotional, business, health or relationship struggles. Great leaders can feel misunderstood or like they are on a battlefield while they work toward effective and lasting change that will benefit countless others.

The following African American women did just this. They followed the deepest calls of their heart. Some of the women faced threats against their life or against the lives of their loved ones. Resistance against them fulfilling their life’s purpose was severe. Yet, the women continued to face their fears, mount their courage and move forward. Their achievements continue to bless, inspire, motivate and benefit others.

Harriet Tubman (maiden name – Ross)

Harriet Tubman was born in slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland. The exact date of her birth is not certain, but researchers place it in either 1819 or 1820. She was of pure African ancestry. When she was 12 years old, she suffered a major injury when a white overseer struck her in the head after she refused to help tie a man up after the man had attempted to run to freedom. When she was 25 she married a free man named John Tubman. Five years later she was on her way North.

Her first journey to freedom found her moving through the birthplace of America – Philadelphia. There she learned about the Underground Railroad and met Philadelphia’s leader of the Underground Railroad, William Still. After she gained her freedom, Harriet returned to Maryland and freed her family members and about 300 other slaves.

Harriet Tubman served as a spy during the Civil War. After the Civil War, she made her home Auburn, NY with her second husband, Nelson Davis. The home Harriet and her husband lived in still remains at the Harriet Tubman Home on South Street in Auburn. She has received many honors among which include military and civil. In 1995 a United States postage stamp was created and issued in her honor.

Mary McLeod Bethune

One of seventeen children in her family, she was born in South Carolina on July 10, 1875. Mary’s family lived within walking distance of one of the first schools opened for blacks in South Carolina. Mary loved to learn. One day while she was playing with a little white girl she revealed her desire to read by taking the book the white girl was reading away from her. The little girl’s remark remained with Mary. She told Mary that she could not have the book because blacks could not read.

In 1898 while living in Sumter, South Carolina, Mary married Albertus Bethune. The first school she worked with was a mission school. She taught at the mission school for nearly five years. Her dreams ever with her, Mary’s next move was to Daytona, Florida. She had little money, but she continued to long to start a school for African American women.

With the help of an area woman she found a house. It was this house that served as the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School which was started in October 1904. Less than 20 years later, that small school swelled to a 32-acre campus with 400 students. Today that school is known as Bethune-Cookman College. Mary’s dream still lives in the lives of the woman walking that very campus today.


  1. PBS. Africans in America. People and Events Harriet Tubman.
  2. National Park Service. Mary McLeod Bethune Council House.