Before the Civil Rights Movement and all that activists like Martin Luther King Jr. did for the equality of African Americans, there were women advocating for freedom of enslaved Africans. These women were Black Girl Magic before it became fashionable.
The term Black Girl Magic was created by CaShawn Thompson in 2013 to celebrate the beauty, power and resilience of black women. While the term is relatively new the notion that black woman are magical, according to Thompson’s definition, dates back to the 1800’s. While not as widely celebrated as women in later centuries – these enslaved African women proved that they were indeed beautiful, powerful and resilient.
Here are 8 examples of pre-emancipation Black Girl Magic.
- Phillis Wheatley – learned to read and write while enslaved. Phillis Wheatley spoke Greek, Latin as well as English and was a highly esteemed poet.
- Maria Stewart – born free in 1803, she was an abolitionist, educator and lecturer. Maria Stewart was one of the most eloquent anti-slavery lecturers in America.
- Mary Ann Shadd Cary – born free in 1823, she was an abolitionist, educator, journalist, publisher and lawyer. Mary Cary was a leader in the antislavery movement. She was very sophisticated and aggressive, and was known for making men feel uncomfortable.
- Frances Ellen Watkins Harper – born free in 1824, she was an abolitionist, writer, educator and lecturer. Frances Harper was one of the most popular African descent poets of her age and wrote poems on the suffering of enslaved persons with a focus on enslaved women.
- Sojorner Truth – born enslaved as Isabella Baumfree in 1797, she escaped to freedom in 1826. Sojourner Truth was an abolitionist, lecturer and women’s rights activist most noted for her feminist speech Ain’t I a Woman.
- Susie King Taylor – born enslaved in 1848 she escaped to freedom in 1862. Susie Taylor was an army nurse and author. She published a memoir titled Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops Late 1st S. C. Volunteers in 1901.
- Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley – born enslaved in 1818, she purchased her and her son’s freedom in 1852. She was an author and seamstress for the wives of powerful men. Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley became the seamstress and personal confidant of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.
- Harriet Jacobs – born enslaved in 1813, she escaped to freedom in 1842. Harriet Jacobs was a writer nurse and abolitionist. Her story was important to antislavery propaganda in the decade before the Civil War because it gave a firsthand account of the mistreatment suffered by enslaved women.
As we celebrate Black History Month, let’s remember all that these women did for freedom. To learn more about the men and women who paved the way for African Americans today, check out the attached video of a documentary featuring Black Civil War Heroes.
Video produced by National Civil War Museum: https://vimeo.com/