7 Historical Black Women Who Are the Definition of “Badass”

I know what you’re thinking—if they’re so historic, why don’t I already know about them? Well, the short answer is because we live in a patriarchal world where women’s voices and stories, especially those of color, are often erased. And honestly, it really, really sucks, because since the dawn of time, women have been getting it done—from building empires to burning down regimes (and that’s on a slow day!). There is no list long enough to account for all the badass things Black women have done throughout history, but hopefully this will be enough to pique your interest to learn more. Let these ladies inspire you to incorporate some of their badass energy into your own life (and maybe even spark a petition for a Netflix Originals biopic or two? Who knows!)

 

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#repost @soledadobrien ・・・ “In the end, anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing: anti-humanism." – Shirley Chisholm #ShirleyChisholm was the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress. Join @archivesfdn for #HistorySpeaks as we explore the complex history of our past through @NationalArchives records. Tickets to the event cost $60 for @archivesfdn members and $100 for the public and can be purchased by following the link in @archivesfdn bio. #nationalarchivesbuilding #nationalarchivesmuseum #nationalarchives #archivesfoundation #recordsofrights #rightfullyhers #civilrights #civilrightsmovement #votingrights #justice #equality #votingrightshistory #blackhistory #blackhistoryisamericanhistory #history #americanhistory #racialjustice #racisminamerica

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1. The Politician: Shirley Chisholm (USA)

 

Most Known For

Surviving three assassination attempts in her historic presidential run (and this amazing, insta-worthy image)

 

Get to Know Her

Before there was a Kamala Harris; there was a Shirley Chisholm, pioneering the way for Black women in politics. Chisholm was a lot of firsts; the first African American woman elected to Congress, as well as the first Black woman to run for the nomination of a major party for the President of the United States. Her 1972 run for the White House was as ambitious as it was historic, with Chisholm having to battle both sexism and racial discrimination in her bid for the nomination. Running under a slogan of “unbought and unbossed,” Chisholm was blocked from participating in televised debates and was only allowed to make a single speech, after filing a complaint with the FCC. Although she was ultimately unsuccessful, Chisholm remained a vocal advocate for minority and women’s rights during her tenure in Congress, introducing over 50 pieces of legislation. She is quoted as saying, “I want to be remembered as a woman … who dared to be a catalyst of change.”

 

How to Channel Her Badass Energy

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair” (and that’s a direct quote from the badass, herself!).

 

 

2. The Rebel: Carlota Lucumí (Cuba)

 

Most Known For

Being a freedom-fighting, machete-wielding revolutionary

 

Get to Know Her

Also known as La Negra Carlota, Carlota Lucumí, along with fellow slave Firmina, devised a plot for what would become known as the 1843 slave rebellion at the Triumvirato sugar mill. Although Firmina was caught distributing information on the revolt and subsequently imprisoned, Carlota managed to push on with the plans, using drums to communicate with slaves at other plantations. On November 3, Carlota, along with other rebel leaders, launched their attack, sparking other uprisings at neighboring estates. Over two days, slaves burned down at least five sugar plantations as well as some coffee plantations and cattle estates, freeing themselves and seizing control by murdering the owners. Carlota is said to have viciously entered into battle, wielding the same machete she used to cut sugar cane to free Firmina. Though she was ultimately captured and brutally executed to dissuade any further revolts, Carlota’s bravery inspired many subsequent revolts, and today, a monument commemorating her legacy stands at the Triumvirato sugar factory.

 

How to Channel Her Badass Energy

Four words: No woman left behind. Remember ladies, we aren’t free until we’re all free!

 

3. The Business Woman: Rachel Pringle Polgreen (Barbados)

 

Most Known For

Using Royal funds to transform her humble tavern into a luxury hotel (can someone say “reparations”?)

 

Get to Know Her

Born in 1753, Rachel Pringle Polgreen, like many enslaved women, spent much of her childhood being physically and sexually abused by her owner/father. At around 16, British Captain Thomas Pringle offered to purchase her, providing an escape from the abuse in exchange for a sexual relationship. The relationship (if one can even call it that) soured due to an elaborate plot involving a faked pregnancy, resulting in Thomas fleeing Barbados in shame. His departure left Rachel with her freedom and a house to herself, which she quickly transformed into a tavern, making her the island’s first Black female hotelier. The tavern became a frequent jaunt of British naval officers looking for sexual relations with Black women. On a visit to Barbados, Prince William Henry (who would become King William IV) and his entourage completely trashed the hotel in a drunken rage, after which Rachel sent him a hefty bill. She used the funds to create a new, luxury accommodation called the Royal Navy Hotel. The hotel was such a success that at the time of her death, Rachel was actually a multi-property owner—including two smaller homes and five tenements!

 

How to Channel Her Badass Energy

The hand we’re dealt might not always be the one we want, but a true badass quickly learns how best to play her cards.

 

 

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Dahomey Amazon warrior women 1890s

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4. The Warrior: Dahomey Amazons (Benin)

 

Most Known For

Being the inspiration behind the Dora Milaje in the Black Panther movie

 

Get to Know Them

Western observers dubbed these vicious warriors “Amazons” due to their vicious, efficient, and ruthless military prowess. The Mino, as they were known in their native tongue, were a revered, all-female militia, sworn to protect and defend the Kingdom of Dahomey (modern-day Benin). Forbidden from having sex lest they became pregnant and unable to do their jobs, the Mino were put through rigorous training, often completing trials that far outweighed any tests their male counterparts had to complete (including climbing a wall of thorns!). Their motto of “conquer or die” was put to the test during the Franco-Dahomey war, where the Mino bravely defended their Kingdom, serving as the last remaining layer of resistance against the French. Though ultimately overwhelmed (and colonized), a French military leader had to concede that the Mino“fight with extreme valor, always ahead of the other troops. They are outstandingly brave … well trained for combat and very disciplined.

 

How to Channel Their Badass Energy

Take a self-defense class. 

 

5. The Revolutionary: Dandara (Brazil)

 

Most Known For

Throwing herself off a cliff rather than return to captivity

 

Get to Know Her

When we talk about women being erased in history, Dandara makes a pretty good case.

Alongside her husband, Zumbi (a major icon in the fight for Afro-Brazilian liberation), Dandara ruled over the Quilombo of Palmarés, a settlement of free Afro-Brazilians, poor whites, Indians, and mestizos. A fierce warrior in her own right, Dandara was skilled in hunting and capoeira, and led the female arm of the Palmares army. Unfortunately, her fight for Black liberation was cut short when in 1694, she was captured by Portuguese forces, opting to commit suicide rather than return to slavery. Interestingly enough, even though Dandara is said to have bravely fought alongside Zumbi in every battle, her very existence is cloaked in controversy. Some insist that Dandara is merely a myth, pointing to her lack of historical mention, while others assert that the very reason so little research has been done on her is due to plain old sexism. Either way, we think Dandara deserves her flowers!

 

How to Channel Her Badass Energy

Live life on your own terms. If it costs your peace of mind, it’s too expensive!

 

 

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The Country of Angola | The Great Civilizations of Africa. A quarter of all slaves who crossed the Atlantic Ocean started their journey from what is today the country of Angola. In the 18th Century the transatlantic slave trade reached fever pitch. On average, an enormous 65,000 Africans a year were being exported from these shores, reaching a peak of 108,000 in 1791. In Angola we discover the real warrior queen, Queen Nzingah and how she protected her kingdom from the Portuguese whose bold ambitions and ruthless methods forced Queen Nzingah to protect her kingdom against slavery and how she made her kingdom survived and thrive amidst it all. Find out more on our Angola Itinerary.

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6. The Diplomat: Queen Nzinga (Angola) 

 

Most Known For

Being an anti-colonial, political strategist that would give Olivia Pope a run for her money.

 

Get to Know Her

Imagine being such a beloved public figure that your brother (the king) decides to sterilize you and murder your son, for fear of a coup. Then, imagine being such a skilled negotiator and diplomat, your murdering brother later has to beg for your help to dissuade the Portuguese from colonizing and enslaving your people. This sounds a lot like a Game of Thrones plot but it’s actually the story of Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba (modern-day Angola). During the peace treaty negotiations, legend has it that the Portuguese deliberately set up the room with only one chair, leaving Nzinga without a seat as a symbol of her inferiority. In response to this slight, she had one of her male servants go on his hands and knees to serve as her chair for the meeting (how’s that for badass?). While the treaty was successfully negotiated, it was in fact never honored, and by 1626, after assuming the role of Queen, Nzinga spent almost three decades fighting off the Portuguese. Today, she is remembered as the Mother of Angola, transforming her kingdom into a major commercial state, all while ruthlessly and strategically protecting her people from Portuguese conquest

 

How to Channel Her Badass Energy

As girl bosses, some days will call for an iron fist, other days, a velvet glove. Be able to do both.

 

7. The Liberator: Nanny of the Maroons (Jamaica)

 

Most Known For

Liberating slaves, offering them refuge, resisting the British, and practicing a little magic on the side

 

Get to Know Her

Deep in the mountains of Jamaica, Nanny of the Maroons provided escaped slaves with a safe haven in the form of a free village called Nanny Town. Nanny and her Maroon warriors led many successful raids on plantations, freeing approximately 1,000 slaves throughout the course of her life. The Windward Maroons excelled under her leadership, so much so that the British government became threatened by the village’s success and launched a series of attacks. Nanny fiercely defended her community, training her warriors in the art of guerrilla warfare to resist the British troops. Some accounts also reference her skill in the practice of “obeah”—Caribbean folk magic— in her successful resistance against the British. Nanny’s legacy is commemorated on the Jamaican $500 bill, and she is also the only female Jamaican national hero. 

 

How to Channel Her Badass Energy

Sometimes the most badass thing you can do is create a space where others can feel safe, protected and free to be themselves.