When we think about the civil rights history, often times we think about Rosa Parks, Emmet Till, Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcom X among some of the most well-known characters of this movement. Before them, there were also other known trailblazer activists like Ida B. Wells, Harriet Tubman, and Booker T. Washington. 

In honor of Black History Month, we would like to highlight women who built the path alongside or even before those who have made it to our history books. 

To learn more about these women follow @race_women on Instagram.

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Rosetta Douglass Sprague (1839-1906)👑 Daughter of Frederick Douglass, Rosetta was a badass activist in her own right. A founding member of the National Association of Colored Women, during the 1896 conference that determined the association’s creation, Rosetta stood in front of her sisters inside DC’s Nineteenth Street Baptist Church and unleashed what can only be called a rallying cry, relevant as ever today: “While the white race have chronicled deeds of heroism and acts of mercy of the women of pioneer and other days, so we are pleased to note in the personality of such women as Phillis Wheatley, Margaret Garner, Sojourner Truth and our venerable friend, Harriet Tubman, sterling qualities of head, heart and hand, that hold no insignificant place in the annals of heroic womanhood...Our progress depends in the united strength of both men and women—the women alone nor the men alone cannot do the work. We have so fully realized that fact by witnessing the work of our men with the women in the rear. This is indeed the women’s era, and we are coming." 🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾 Here’s to #heroicwomanhood

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Hallie Quinn Brown (1849-1949)👑 Activist, educator, writer. In 1926 Brown published ‘Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction,’ a collection of biographies written by Black women about other influential Black women “as a token of regard to the history-making women of our race.” The writings were personal—nieces wrote about aunties, daughters about mamas, colleagues, friends and mentees about the women who shaped them—and shaped the culture. Brown’s intro to the book feels so urgent. She describes an “anxious desire” to preserve the legacies of these remarkable women for future generations. Written by us for us, ‘Homespun Heroines’ is like a love letter to our past and future selves. ✊🏾 💗✨ #wcw #blackhistory365

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“Women stand at the gateway of this new American civilization. In her hands must be moulded the strength, the wit, the statesmanship, the morality, all the psychic force, the social and economic intercourse of that era. To be alive at such an epoch is a privilege, to be a woman then is sublime.” —author & educator Anna Julia Cooper, from her book A Voice from the South (1892). Considered one of the earliest Black feminist texts, in it AJC basically lets the people know that Black women’s brilliance is the key to saving us all 💪🏾✨

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“It is the duty of the true race-woman to study and discuss all phases of the race question.” —Pauline Hopkins, 1902 👑 Pioneering novelist, playwright and journalist, Hopkins brazenly chronicled the achievements of other Black women in the Colored American magazine during the early 1900s. The sole woman senior editor on the editorial team, Hopkins knew that if she didn’t highlight our stories, putting us at the center of our own stellar narratives, no one else would. Educators, writers, artists, and musicians were celebrated figures within the magazine’s pages. OG #shinetheory at its best 👌🏾✨

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As we celebrate and honor MLK this weekend, I also can’t help thinking about Maria W. Stewart, a Black woman who lived over a century before King delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. In 1831 Stewart began a short-lived public speaking career in Boston, becoming the first-ever woman to address a mixed crowd of men and women. She used this never-before-reached platform to unapologetically speak up about the reality of racial and gender prejudice, the dangerous intersection of the two, and the greatness she foresaw for her people. She was an early proponent of Black nationalism, Black pride and Black intellectual power, encouraging her sisters to build schools for themselves and live rich, full lives outside the home. A woman like Maria Stewart was completely unheard of for her time. And for daring to make space where none was given, she was brutally criticized. By 1833, she ended her speaking career. In her public farewell address, Stewart talked about feeling chosen to do the work of pushing and pulling for a better vision of humanity. Why a Black woman? Her response was, essentially, why the hell not?: “It is not the color of the skin that makes the man or the woman, but it is the principle formed within the soul.” 130 years later when MLK gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, he drew upon the collective hopes of the ancestors. So when he expressed his vision of living in a society where Black folks would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” I like to think the spirit of Maria Stewart was with him as he wrote those famous words, sentiments that so closely echoed her own. 💗💗 ____ No verifiable images of Maria Stewart exist (yet!)—the one most often used, including on her wiki, is actually abolitionist Sarah Fayerweather (badass in her own right). BUT Stewart did leave us her powerful speeches and words, like ‘Meditations from the Pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart,’ first published in 1832. ____ PS: check out the @mocada_museum page to learn about David Walker, a huge mentor and close friend to Stewart. Both uncompromising and fearless, they shared the same blueprint for getting us free ✨✊🏾#mlkday

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Catharsis Productions

Catharsis Productions' mission is to change the world by producing innovative, accessible and 
research-supported programming that challenges oppressive attitudes and shifts behavior.