CHRISTINE DE PISAN the first woman writer to be published in English


In the same way that, according to Virginia Woolf, English women writers
are indebted to Aphra Behn, Italian women writers, including Nobel laureate Grazia Deledda, are indebted to Christine de Pisan. Three hundred years before Aphra Behn set pen to paper, de Pisan was earning her way as a writer.

Born in 1364, she was the daughter of a scientist and scholar, Thomas de
Pisan, a Venetian court-appointed astrologer to the French king Charles V. Her girlhood saw a rare advantage for Christine: a classical education. She loved France and claimed it as her heart’s home. Her father saw to it that she was educated as well as any man, and Christine learned French, Latin, arithmetic, and geometry. She married Etienne du Castel, who was nine years her senior, at fifteen. In three short years they had three children, and du Castel died around the time of the third baby’s birth. At barely nineteen, Christine de Pisan was left to support her children and several hapless relatives, and did so with her talent for prose and poetry.

She claimed to write constantly, noting “in the short space of six years, between 1397 and 1403…fifteen important books, without mentioning minor essays, which, compiled, make seventy large copy-books.” Among her books are a biography of Charles V, another on Philip of Burgundy, and Le Livre de Paix. In the latter, an instruction on rearing princes and a rebuttal to the bestselling “bible of courtly love,” The Romance of the Rose, de Pisan sought to repair a woman’s reputation that had been ruined by the popular epic poem.

After a writing career that lasted twenty-nine years, Christine retired to a convent. In 1429, just before her death, she wrote a book honoring Joan of Arc. It was, wrote Vicki León in Uppity Women of Medieval Times, “the only French book ever written about the Maid of Orleans in her lifetime.”

While she was alive, Christine de Pisan received unstintingly positive reviews for her work and was compared favorably to Cicero and Cato. Her work stands the test of time. In 1521, Le Livre du duc des vraies aman was published in England as The Book of the Duke of True Lovers, the first book by a woman published in English. Her City of Women was rediscovered in the twentieth century and is taught in literature courses worldwide.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


This work is from the Carl Van Vechten Photographs collection at the Library of Congress.

In 1904 Mary McLeod Bethune started a school on $1.50 and dreams on the grounds of a former dump. “I haunted the city dump retrieving discarded linen and kitchenware, cracked dishes, broken chairs, pieces of old lumber,” she remembered later. The humble beginning has now blossomed into Bethune Cookman College in Daytona, Florida.

She wasn’t daunted by the idea of all the hard work it would take to make her dreams come true; she was used to picking 250 pounds of cotton a day and pulling the plow when the family mule died. The fifteenth of seventeen children born to former slaves, Mary was brought up as a strict Methodist to believe in the sweat of the brow and faith in God. At the age of twelve, she was given a scholarship by the Quakers to be educated at an integrated school in North Carolina, later going on to Moody Bible College. From these experiences, she had a profound respect for education, particularly for its value in helping her people rise from poverty.

Mary’s school succeeded through her combination of penny-pinching abilities and excellent fundraising skills (she even got J.D. Rockefeller to contribute). She trained the students to pick elderberries to make into ink, used burned wood for chalk, and bartered free tuition for food for her students. Soon she added an infirmary on the site when she realized blacks couldn’t get medical treatment within 200 miles of that part of the Atlantic Coast; eventually that grew into a training hospital for doctors and nurses. By 1922, the school boasted 300 students, and Mary stayed on as president of the college until 1942.

She had a strong commitment to African Americans, particularly women. While running the school, she led the campaign to register black women voters, despite threats from the KKK. Her civil rights activism and humanitarianism brought her into contact with many people, including Eleanor Roosevelt, with whom she became good friends. Bethune ended up serving people in many leadership roles, including as the founder and president of the National Council of Negro Women, the leading member of the “Black Cabinet” who were advisors to FDR on African American needs and interests, and the Director of the Office of Minority Affairs of the National Youth Administration. When she was seventy-seven, concerned over the inability of blacks to get life insurance, she started the Central Life Insurance Company, becoming the only woman president of a national life insurance company in the entire United States.

For these and other accomplishments, Mary McLeod Bethune was regarded as the most influential black woman in America until her death in 1955. Mary’s rise from poverty to national leadership is sheer sheroism.

“I leave you. I leave you hope…I leave you racial dignity.”

— Mary McLeod Bethune

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.



Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education and the rights of girls, as well as the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel prize. She was born in Mingora, Pakistan in the country’s Swat Valley in 1997. Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, believed that she would one day become a politician, and would let her stay up late at night to discuss politics. She spoke about education rights for the first time at age 11, when her father took her to the local press club in Peshawar, on the topic, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” At this time, the Taliban were frequently blowing up girls’ schools. When she heard that BBC Urdu news was looking for a schoolgirl to anonymously blog about her life and that the girl who had been about to do it had changed her mind due to her family’s fear of the Taliban, Malala, who was only in the seventh grade at the time, took on the task. BBC staff insisted she use a pseudonym: she was called “Gul Makai”, or “cornflower” in Urdu.


Malala hand-wrote notes which were then passed to a reporter to be scanned and sent to BBC Urdu by email. On January 3, 2009, her first post went up. Her descriptions continued to be published as military operations began, including the First Battle of Swat; eventually Malala’s school was shut down. By January 15th, the Taliban had issued an edict in Mingora that no girl was allowed to go to school – and by this point, they had already destroyed over one hundred girls’ schools. After the ban went into effect, they continued to destroy more schools. A few weeks later, girls were allowed to attend school, but only at coed schools; girls’ schools were still banned, and very few girls went back to school in the atmosphere of impending violence that hung over the area. On February 18th, local Taliban leader Maulana Fazlulla announced he would lift the ban on education of females, and girls would be able to attend school until March 17th, when exams were scheduled, but they would have to wear burqas.


After Malala finished her series of blog posts for the BBC on March 12th, 2009, a New York Times reporter asked her and her father if she could appear in a documentary. At this point, military actions and regional unrest forced the evacuation of Mingora, and Malala was sent to stay with country relatives. In late July, her family was reunited and allowed to return home, and after the documentary, Malala began to do some major media interviews. By the end of 2009, her identity as the BBC blogger had been revealed by journalists. She started receiving international recognition and was awarded a National Youth Peace Prize – a first-time award in Pakistan – by her country’s government. As things developed, she began to plan the Malala Education Foundation in 2012, whose purpose would be to help economically disadvantaged girls to be able to attend school. But in summer of that year, a group of Taliban leaders agreed to kill her – unanimously. As she rode the bus home in October, a masked gunman shot her; the bullet passed through her head, neck, and shoulder, and wounded two other girls.


Malala barely survived, but was airlifted to a Peshawar hospital, where doctors removed the bullet from her head in five hours. She then received specialized treatment in Europe with the Pakistani government bearing the cost. Since her recovery, she has continued to speak out both for education for girls and for the rights of women in general. At age 17, she was the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her work on behalf of children and young people, sharing the prize with Kailash Satyarthi,a children’s rights activist from India. Malala is the youngest Nobel laureate ever. That year she also received an honorary doctorate from University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. On her 18th birthday, she opened a school in Lebanon not far from the Syrian border for Syrian refugees, specifically teenage girls, funded by the nonprofit Malala Fund. She is continuing her schooling as well as her activism. Learn more about her work at


This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


Screenshot_2020-01-04 PowerPoint Presentation - TheVIDYAJourney_September2019 pdf

Rashmi Misra grew up in a military family, so she moved around, attending several schools, but completed her schooling in Delhi, India. She went to Lady Sri
Ram College and studied German and public relations. Concurrently, she also studied Odissi dance, an ancient form of Indian classical dance that came originally from Hindu temples. As a young woman, she was employed as a member of the ground staff by Lufthansa Airlines. In 1985, she began teaching a class for five girls at her home, which was then on the campus of IIT Delhi; this was the beginning of what would become VIDYA. As she describes it,“…I realized that the children were thirsty to learn, but the opportunities and means were missing. I went to slums to find children and educate them… Educating the underprivileged kept me motivated.”

After she married, she emigrated to the United States. She built the small education project she had started into VIDYA, a major nonprofit that employs over 300 people and has made a difference to more than 220,000 families in the three decades since then. The NGO works with people in the extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods
of Delhi, Bangalore, and Mumbai, supplying schools as well as remedial education; literacy, computer, and other skills training; and microfinance and other support on behalf of social entrepreneurship. Much of VIDYA’s work still focuses on helping children, as well as women entrepreneurs; but supporting women and children transforms entire communities. Misra found – and inspired – many volunteers and carried out fundraising over the years to sustain VIDYA’s efforts. Visit their web page to learn more about the fruits of her work – and never doubt that one woman who cares can make a difference:


This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Angelina Emily Grimké and Sarah Moore Grimké: Sister Soldiers

The Grimké sisters were raised like Scarlett and her sisters in Gone with the Wind, but, unlike the fictional characters, grew up hating slavery. The privileged duo, two of twelve children, had all the southern advantages of private tutors and training in the arts at their palatial Charleston, South Carolina, home and were brought up to be good, high church Episcopalians. But they first showed their abolitionist spunk when Sarah was twelve; she was caught teaching a slave to read and write, a criminal offense. Because Angelica supported her, they were both punished.

As soon as they could, they high-tailed it out of there. Sarah bailed in 1821, moving north to The City of Brotherly Love and converting to Quakerism because of its antislavery beliefs. Angelina followed eight years later and repeated her sister’s religious switch and “lefty” leanings, going so far as to join the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society.

Angelina had a nose for publicity and got her passionate condemnation of slavery published in William Lloyd Garrison’s magazine The Liberator. Spurred by this break, Angelina followed up with a pamphlet entitled “An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South,” which tried to appeal to women’s consciences in opposing slavery: “But, perhaps you will be ready to query, why appeal to women on this subject? We do not make the law which perpetuates slavery. No legislative power is vested in us; we can do nothing to overthrow the system, even if we wished to do so. To this I reply, I know you do not make the laws, but I also know that you are the wives and mothers, the sisters and the daughters of those who do; and if you really suppose you can do nothing to overthrow slavery, you are greatly mistaken…1st. You can read on this subject. 2nd. You can pray over this subject. 3rd. You can speak on this subject. 4th. You can act on this subject.”

Her appeal created a storm of controversy. In her hometown of Charleston, the postmaster burned all copies and put out a warning that Angelina better never show her face again in the South. At that point, sister Sarah took up the charge and attacked the slavers with a shot below their biblical belts with a refutation of the lame excuse that slavery was “OK” according to the Bible in her “Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States.”

The fearless siblings took their abolitionist act on the road, speaking to mixed crowds of both men and women. This really raised the dander of so-called “proper” society—ladies were not supposed to appear in public with men who were not their husbands and women were not supposed to lecture or preach—and they returned fire with a printed attack from the Massachusetts clergy that was preached to every available congregation in 1837. The clergy condemned women reformers and preachers, issuing a caution regarding any female who “assumed the place and tone of man as public reformer…her character becomes unnatural.” This was followed by other pious publications assaulting the Grimké sisters for overstepping their place.

As a result of the churches’ attack, the sisters found themselves in the middle of the women’s rights movement and are generally credited with being the first to make a link between the abolitionist cause and women’s rights. The irrepressible duo fired back in grand style with letters in the Spectator and in Sarah’s book, published in 1838, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women where she took the panty-waisted preachers down with her brilliant manifesto declaring women as absolutely and naturally endowed with equal rights, and that the only “unnatural” behaviors being performed in American society were those of men suppressing women!

Later, Angelina became the first woman in America to speak to a legislature with the presentation of her antislavery petition signed by 20,000 women to the Massachusetts state legislative body. The Grimkés were ahead of their time in many other ways as well, embracing new health fads and intellectual movements and running with a pretty arty crowd, including Henry David Thoreau who was intrigued by their up-to-the-minute fashion sense, describing them as “two elderly gray-haired ladies, the former in extreme Bloomer costume, which was what you might call remarkable.” Go Grimkés!

“I ask for no favors for my sex. I surrender no claim to equality. All I ask our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks and permit us to stand upright on the ground which God designed us to occupy.”
— Sarah Moore Grimké

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Belva Ann Bennett McNall Lockwood: See How She Ran

By Unknown – 1883 publication, Public Domain.

Victorian powerhouse Belva Lockwood was the first woman to plead before the U.S. Supreme Court and the first woman to run for president of the United States. After being blocked from the law department of Columbian College (Now George Washington University) for fear that her presence would distract the male students, this widow and former school teacher applied to the brand new National Law School. Upon her graduation in 1869 at the age of forty-three, Belva was refused her degree and took this affront to the attention of President Ulysses S. Grant, who arranged for the due delivery of Belva’s diploma.

This was just the beginning of her struggles to be allowed to practice law. Admitted to the District of Columbia bar, Belva was barred from speaking to federal courts due to her gender. Not willing to take the exclusion lying down, she then rammed a bill through Congress allowing women lawyers in the federal courts, becoming in 1879 the first woman admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court. Proving that Belva wasn’t just in it for herself, she took up many cases for the underdog—championing, for example, the first southern black lawyer to argue before the Supreme Court. And in her most spectacular case, she won a famous $5 million judgment (an unheard of amount in the nineteenth century) for the Cherokee Indians, forcing the U.S. government to pay them for their land. This spectacular victory prompted opposing lawyer Assistant Attorney General Louis A. Pratt to designate her “decidedly the most noted attorney in this country, if not in the world.”

With her brilliant legal mind, Belva figured that, “If women in the states are not permitted to vote, there is no law against their being voted for, and if elected, filling the highest office in the gift of the people” and decided to run for president as the candidate of the Equal Rights Party in 1884 and 1888, with a hefty platform espousing rights for all minorities (including voting rights for women) along with temperance, peace, and universal education. Interestingly, she was opposed by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who urged her to endorse the Republican candidate, James Blaine (he was in favor of women’s rights). Both Blaine and Lockwood lost out to Grover Cleveland, but Lockwood surprised everyone by getting thousands of votes! Throughout her life, she continued to work and speak on behalf of her favored causes—women, peace, and minority rights—attaining a national reputation as a brilliant and powerful speaker. In her later years, she threw her energies into the Universal Peace Union, a precursor to the United Nations that advocated arbitration as a solution to internal conflicts. In 1912, she reflected back on her lengthy career and remarked, “I never stopped fighting. My cause was the cause of thousands of women.”

“Were I a voice—a still small voice—an eloquent voice, I would whisper into the ear of every young woman, improve and exercise every talent that has been given to you; improve every opportunity, obey your inspiration, give no heed to the croakings of those narrow minds who take old hide bound and musty customs for religion and law, with which they have no affiliation, and who tell you with remarkable ease that these professions were never intended for women.”
— Belva Ann Bennett McNall Lockwood

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Michelle Obama: Fearless Flotus

By Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy – P021213CK-0027 (direct link), Public Domain.

Michelle Obama not only served as the 44th First Lady of the United States of America, but is also an American lawyer, writer, and the founder of Let’s Move!, an initiative towards the prevention of child obesity, as well as an advocate of civil rights for women and LGBT people. Michelle Robinson was born in Chicago in 1964. In 1985 she graduated from Princeton, and in 1988 she completed a law degree at the prestigious Harvard Law School, after which she worked at Sidley Austin, a Chicago corporate law firm of high repute. Though Sidley didn’t usually take on first-year law students as associates, in 1989 they asked Michelle to mentor a summer associate named Barack Obama. When he finished his term as an associate and returned to Harvard, their relationship continued long distance, and in 1992 they married. At the same time, Michelle was evaluating in those years whether a career in corporate law was really what she wanted. Corporate law, while lucrative, was not what she’d intended when she started college. She lost her father to kidney complications in 1991, which furthered her process of reflection; she was later quoted saying by the New York Times, “I wanted to have a career motivated by passion and not just money.” She left Sidley Austin and went to work for Chicago, first for the Mayor and then providing her expertise toValerie Jarrett, the head of the planning and development department. In that position she was working for job creation and to bring new life to Chicago’s neighborhoods, and after this turning point, she never looked back.

After spending a few years working in hospital administration for the University of Chicago Hospitals, Michelle became First Lady of the United States when her husband won the presidential election of 2008. In this role, she advocated for military families, working women balancing family with career, and arts and arts education. Michelle also supported LGBT civil rights, working with her husband for the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. In 2010, she began to take steps to create a healthier lifestyle for the youth of America with the “Let’s Move” campaign to prevent child obesity. These are just a few of many of her accomplishments as the first African American First Lady in the White House. Now that she has left it, she is preparing to continue her advocacy work and write a planned memoir as she and the Obama family settle into their new residence in Washington, D.C., where they will remain until daughter Sasha Obama finishes high school.

“There are still many causes worth sacrificing for, so much history yet to be made.”
— Michelle Obama

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Oprah Winfrey: The Queen of the Talk Show

By, CC BY 2.0, Public Domain.

Although most people think of The Oprah Winfrey Show when they think of Oprah, besides ruling the media world as a television and talk show host, her curriculum vitae also includes being an actress, producer, magazine publisher, entrepreneur, CEO, and philanthropist. None of this was handed to her – she was born to a teenaged mother on a farm in Mississippi in 1954, and her unmarried parents soon separated and left her there in her grandmother’s care. She was exceptionally bright; her grandmother taught her to read at the tender age of two and a half, and she was skipped through kindergarten and second grade. At age six, Oprah was sent to live with her mother and three half-siblings in a very rough Milwaukee ghetto. She has said that she was molested as a child starting at age nine and in her early teens by men her family trusted.

At twelve, she was again uprooted and sent to live with her father, a barber, in Nashville. This was however a relatively positive time for the young Oprah, who started being called on to make speeches at churches and social gatherings. After being paid $500 for a speech on one occasion, she knew she wanted to be “paid to talk”. She was further bounced back and forth between both her parents’ homes, compounding the trauma of the abuse she had suffered. Her mother worked long and variable hours and was not around much of the time. At 14, Oprah became pregnant with a son; he did not survive early infancy. After some years of acting out including running away once, she was sent to her father to stay, this time; she credits her father with saving her with his strictness and devotion, his rules, guidance, structure, and books. It was mandatory that she write a book report every week, and she went without dinner unless she learned five new vocabulary words every day.

Things completely turned around for Oprah. She did well in school and then managed to land a job in radio while still in high school. After winning an oratory contest, she was able to study communication on a scholarship at Tennessee State University, a historically black college. She was a co-anchor of the local evening news at age 19, and before long her emotional verve when ad-libbing took her into the world of Baltimore’s daytime talk shows. After seven years on Baltimore Is Talking, she had better local ratings than those of famed national talk show host Phil Donahue. She then took a local Chicago talk show from third place to first, and then she was on her way with the launch of her own production company. In 1985, a year after taking on A.M. Chicago, producer Quincy Jones spotted Oprah on air and decided to cast her in a film he was planning based on Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple. Her acting in this extremely well-received film had a meteoric effect on the popularity of her talk show, which was by now The Oprah Winfrey Show, and the show gained wide syndication. She had taken a local show and changed its focus from traditional women’s concerns and tabloid fodder to issues including cancer, charity work, substance abuse, self-improvement, geopolitics, literature, and spirituality.

Oprah launched O: The Oprah Magazine in 2000; it continues to be popular. She has spearheaded other publications as well, from four years of O At Home magazine to co-authoring five books. She is currently soon to release a memoir, The Life You Want. In 2008, Oprah created a new channel called OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network and put her self-branded talk show to bed. She has earned the sobriquet of “Queen of All Media”
and is accounted as the richest African-American and the most pre-eminent black philanthropist in American history. She is at present North America’s first and only black multi-billionaire and is considered to be one the most influential women in the world, despite the many setbacks and hardships she endured in early life. She has been awarded honorary doctorates from Duke and Harvard universities, and in 2013, Oprah received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Daisy Bates: Fighting the System and Winning!

By Source, Fair use, Public Domain.

The image of an eight-year-old black girl in her perfectly starched blouse and skirt walking through a gauntlet of hatred to go to school was etched in the minds of every American in the sixties. Everyone was touched by the grace and dignity shown by the young girl who was spat at and heckled, as cameras shoved in her face recorded it for all posterity. Activists for integration won a huge victory that day and with an even greater strength and resolve went on to flatten every segregation wall that presented itself.

Daisy Bates was one of the civil rights warriors who were first called into action in the fight for desegregation. Born in 1920, Daisy was adopted into a loving family in Little Rock, Arkansas, and never knew what happened to her birth mother until the taunts of schoolchildren made the eight-year-old question her adoptive mother. On that day, she found out that her mother had been raped and murdered by three white men who then dumped her body in a pond. Her father left town to escape having the crime pinned on him.

When Daisy was twenty-one, she married L.C. Bates, a black man who had been educated as a journalist. Together, they took over a Little Rock newspaper, the Arkansas State Press, and turned it into a platform for “the people,” reporting crimes committed against blacks that the white paper ignored. Daisy worked as a reporter, covering with complete honesty, for example, the cold-blooded murder of a black soldier by military police. The white business community was outraged over the State Press’ coverage: They feared the army would leave their town and withdraw all advertising. However, the Bates’ brave courage in the face of brutality to blacks curtailed these crimes, and Little Rock became a more liberated town despite itself.

Then the movement toward desegregation heated up, with Daisy Bates right in the thick of things. The Supreme Court had declared segregation of schools unconstitutional in May of 1954, giving Southern schools the chance to describe how and when they would make the required changes. The local school board had responded by saying that they would take on the notion of integration “gradually.” Little Rock’s black community was up in arms about the foot dragging and after butting their heads in the many stony-faced meetings, they opted to take matters into their own hands. The state and local NAACP decided that they would try to enroll the students into the segregated schools and build up cases of denied admission in order to create a true challenge to the policy of gradualism. Daisy Bates, as president of the NAACP in Little Rock, worked with the State Press and other papers to publicize this flouting of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Finally, in 1957, they decided to integrate the high school, come hell or high water. The children who would put their bodies on the line would become famous overnight as “Daisy’s children” and suffer personal agony for the cause of racial injustice.

When nine children were selected to attend the “whites only” Central High School, Daisy acted as their escort and protector. Answering a poll screened by school officials, the group of young heroes and sheroes consisted of: Carlotta Walls, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Ernest Green, Terrence Roberts, Gloria Ray, Minnijean Brown, Jefferson Thomas, and Elizabeth Eckford. When Little Rock school superintendent Virgil Blossom decreed that no adults could accompany the black students, Daisy called all of their homes and told them there would be a change of plans.

Elizabeth Eckford’s family had no telephone, so she showed up on opening day—to be faced by an angry white mob who also attacked the reporters and photographers. The mob siege lasted seventeen days until 1,000 paratroopers showed up in response to orders from the White House to carry through the order of legal integration of the school.

However, the students were on their own once inside, prey to taunts, shoving, and threats of violence. Daisy Bates continued to protect and advise the children throughout the ordeal, accompanying them to every meeting with a school official when racial incidents happened. The struggle at Little Rock was only the first in a round of actions that ultimately led to full legal desegregation. Though difficult, the victory was entirely to Daisy and her “children” who showed the nation that you could stand up to hatred and ignorance with honesty and dignity. You can fight a losing battle and win.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Coretta Scott King: Unshakeable Faith

By Kingkongphoto & from Laurel Maryland, USA – Coretta Scott King © copyright 2010, CC BY-SA 2.0, Public Domain.

Like the Robesons, the Kings had a marriage based on love—for each other and for racial equality. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Coretta gained recognition in her own right as a pillar of the civil rights movement. A talented musician, Coretta was born in Alabama in 1927 and was educated at Antioch, where she got a degree in music and elementary education and was exposed to whites in a very different environment than the South, learning a great deal about techniques to foster interracial communication. In 1953, she married Martin Luther King, Jr. while they were both college students, and they pursued a life together, her music—she got a higher degree at the New England Conservatory of Music—and his theological degree. From a long line of ministers, Martin felt a call to become a pastor, a decision that found the young couple moving to Montgomery, Alabama, after their education. They had their first of four children in their first year at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and became deeply involved in the actions of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the bus boycott after Rosa Parks’ historic bus ride. As the footage shows, Coretta was right beside Martin at every protest, fighting for the rights of all African Americans. She also participated in fundraising for the movement by giving more than thirty concerts in Europe and the United States to raise money for Martin’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

The Kings traveled extensively in their work—to Ghana, to India, to Nigeria, and in 1964, to Norway to receive Dr. King’s Nobel Peace Prize. Four years later, the world watched in horror as Martin was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee, during a garbage workers strike. Coretta didn’t shrink from the work at hand and led a protest in Memphis four days later with her children at her side. Her quiet dignity captured the nation; that year she was voted Woman of the Year and Most Admired Woman by college students.

From that fateful day, Coretta stepped forward and took up the mantle of leadership in the civil rights movement, which she shared with the young Jesse Jackson. Coretta amazed everyone with her stamina and heart as she made speech after speech and led march after march. She has received innumerable awards for her tireless efforts in her lifetime. She founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Change and has also led the attention of the nation into new directions, organizing antiwar protests, antinuclear and anti-apartheid lobbies, and employment for African Americans. More than 100 colleges have given her honorary doctorates. Coretta Scott King has never hesitated to give herself to the struggle for freedom and justice, viewing it as both “a privilege” and “a blessing.”

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.