Famous & Inspirational Black Women in History

Published on October 10, 2013 by PBS

Be inspired by an exceptional group of women in this collection of films and stories. Each of the Black women featured here have made a special mark on their communities and the world. Explore Inspirational Women with PBS. Get to know these 11 women, their acclaimed works, and trailblazing lives.

Daisy Bates: A Civil Rights Hero

Daisy Bates was a complex, unconventional and largely forgotten heroine of the civil rights movement who led the charge to desegregate the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957. Learn more in this clip from Independent Lens.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll

Despite not being a household name today, Sister Rosetta Tharpe is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Her flamboyance, skill, and showmanship on the newly electrified guitar played a vital role in the conception of Rock & Roll as a genre of music. Featuring archival performances and using new interviews with fellow musicians, producers, friends, and colleagues, this film from American Masters tells the story of a talented and determined woman that introduces spiritual passion of her gospel music background into Rock & Roll. Learn more about Sister Rosetta Tharpe, her life story, and lasting artistic legacy.

Harriet Tubman

"I was conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can't say – I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger."
Harriet Tubman

How much do you know about the most famous "conductor" of the Underground Railroad? Learn more in this page of 10 Interesting Facts about Harriet Tubman. 

Maya Angelou

Learn how Dr. Maya Angelou began writing and reading poetry as a child.

Rosa Parks

While Parks may not have been the first African American to challenge the status quo of segregation laws in the south, her quiet yet courageous act of protest in 1955 earned her the nickname "Mother of the Freedom Movement."

More on Rosa Parks

Misty Copeland

Copeland was the first Black principal ballerina at the American Ballet Theatre.

Angela Davis

Dr. Angela Davis reflects back on her younger self in this interview with PBS Newshour.

Barbara Conrad

For Conrad - truly the embodiment of "Amazing Grace" - creativity is essential.

Wangari Maathai

Maathai was the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to save Kenya's forests.

Ameena Matthews

Get to know Ameena Matthews, a Chicago native and community activist featured in the 2012 Frontline film The Interrupters.

Vernice Armour

Meet the country's first Black female combat pilot.