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40 Famous Black Women Who Are Breaking Boundaries and Making History

Get to know these influential singers, authors and activists.

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The legacy of Black women goes beyond Black History Month. Every day, more and more Black women are breaking boundaries not just for themselves, but with hopes of creating paths for future brown girls, just like the Black women who came before them did.

When you think back, it wasn't long ago that Black women weren't allowed to vote — the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed just 57 years ago. And then, in 2021, we saw a Black and South Asian woman get sworn in as our Vice President. While it may seem that we have come a long way in such a short amount of time, there are still systematic oppressions keeping Black and brown people at a disadvantage.

From scientists to painters, Black women have proven they excel in any career. Yet there are still Black women being acknowledged as the first to accomplish something in their realms, which goes to show that there is still so much work to done in America.

Today and every day, we celebrate African American women who are breaking down barriers in every field, and invite you to join us. From singers like Lizzo, politicians such as Maxine Waters and Stacey Abrams and poets like Amanda Gorman, this list of phenomenal women will continue to grow.

While we're focusing on modern influencers in this post, we encourage you to also learn about the trailblazers of the past, including Claudette Colvin, Octavia Butler, Lorraine Hansberry and Moms Mabley — just to name a few.

famous black women michelle obama
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Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama is an attorney, philanthropist and the first African American First Lady in U.S. history. During her time as First Lady, Mrs. Obama created the Let’s Move program which was developed to help end childhood obesity. In 2019 she became author of bestseller Becoming which was followed by the corresponding Netflix documentary in 2020. The Princeton University and Harvard Law School graduate continues to advocate for education for young girls, and the overall health of children.

famous black women  lizzo
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Lizzo

Multi-talented artist Melissa Jefferson a.k.a. Lizzo, has hit the ground running with her mainstream success and release of her 2019 studio album, Cuz I Love You. With multiple singles climbing on the music charts, the singer, rapper and flutist has been breaking boundaries since she steps onto the music scene —earning eight Grammy nominations and winning three Grammy Awards, among a multitude of others. An advocate for body positivity, Lizzo continues to use her platform to encouraging women to embrace their beauty regardless of societal standards.

famous black women  quinta brunson
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Quinta Brunson

You may recognize Quinta Brunson from her multiple viral dating parodies or trending BuzzFeed videos. The producer, actress and writer has expanded her career by appearing on television shows such as Big Mouth and most recently launching her own show, Abbott Elementary.

famous black women  symone sanders
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Symone D. Sanders

Political strategist Symone D. Sanders is the former chief spokeswoman for Vice President Kamala Harris, and in 2016, was named national press secretary for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaign. A few years later, Ms. Sanders would join Joe Biden's 2020 presidential campaign as a senior advisor. Once elected, the Biden-Harris administration named Sanders a senior member. Now, Sanders has landed multiple shows on MSNBC.

famous black women elaine welteroth
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Elaine Welteroth

This fashion forward, author, talk show host and award-winning journalist got her start in the editorial industry. After years of hard work Welteroth was named editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue in 2017, making her the youngest EIC in the publication's history at the time. Author of New York Time's best seller More Than Enough and judge on the new Project Runway, Welteroth has proven there's no stopping her.

famous black women  yara shahidi
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Yara Shahidi

Harvard University student, activist and actress, Yara Shahidi is well known for her role as Zoey Johnson on ABC's Black-ish, as well as her own spinoff, Grown-ish, among many other television and film roles. At a young age, Shahidi demonstrated her dedication to advocating for people of color and bringing light to injustices happening around the globe.

famous black women  tarana burke
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Tarana Burke

Time magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year, Tarana Burke is an activist and the founder of Me Too. The New York native's group brings awareness and support to sexual violence survivors. In 2017, the group's hashtag #metoo started a revolution and brought women together in solidarity in the fight against sexual assault. Me Too helps bring resources to survivors, as well as those in their lives.

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Issa Rae

Creator of the award-winning television show Insecure, Issa Rae has proven that there are no limits to what you can accomplish. After creating the popular web series The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl, Rae broke into the television and film industries — producing, directing and starring in multiple projects, and even began her own production company, HOORAE, as well as her own record label, Raedio. Rae has dedicated her career to creating storylines and platforms for artists and actors of color.

famous black women  amanda seales
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Amanda Seales

Activist, comedian, host and actress, Amanda Seales can be found on her HBO stand up comedy special, I Be Knowin' or on television shows such as Insecure. Her first book Small Doses: Potent Truths for Everyday Use, hit the shelves in 2019, and her game show, Smart Funny & Black, which celebrates Black culture has a huge following. When you can’t find her on the television screen, she's using her platform to address injustices and issues in the Black community.

famous black women  vice president kamala harris
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Vice President Kamala Harris

Before becoming Vice President, she graduated from Howard University and the University of California, Hastings College of Law. In 2017, Vice President Harris was sworn into the United States Senate, and focused on reforming cash bail, combating hunger, providing rent relief, improving maternal health care and addressing the climate crisis, amongst other issues facing the American people. In 2021, she was not only the first woman, but the first Black and South Asian American to become Vice President of the United States.

famous black women  ibtihaj muhammad
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Ibtihaj Muhammad

Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad made history as the first American woman to wear a hijab during an Olympic game. The world champion and 5-time senior world medalist has release two books, including the best-selling children's book, The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family, as well as memoir PROUD: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream.

famous black women  debbie allen
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Debbie Allen

Owner of Debbie Allen Dance Academy, actress, choreographer, producer and director, Debbie Allen is an icon in the entertainment industry. Allen is well known for her work on the television series FAME, as both a choreographer and actress. With over four decades in the industry, Allen has earned countless awards, including a Golden Globe, Emmy and NAACP. Allen has been a director on numerous shows including How To Get Away with Murder, Scandal and A Different World, and is currently a director, star and executive producer on Grey's Anatomy.

famous black women  jackie ania
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Jackie Aina

Aina began her start in entertainment industry as a YouTuber with a concentration on makeup tips for Black and brown women, specifically women with deeper complexion‘s. Throughout the years, she evolved and built an empire, partnering with multiple large makeup brands, creating exclusive products and starting her own brand of candles, Forever Mood.

famous black women  tracee ellis ross
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Tracee Ellis Ross

Tracee Ellis Ross has been a familiar face in the entertainment industry after getting her start as a fashion model at young age. Later, Ellis Ross got into acting, and became known for her lead role in the 2000 sitcom, Girlfriends. She currently stars as Rainbow Johnson in the award-winning series Black-ish. Ellis Ross has started her own hair care lines, Pattern Beauty which caters those with naturally curly hair.

famous black women  stacey abrams
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Stacey Abrams

Lawyer and politician, Stacey Abrams served in the Georgia House of Representatives for 11 years. After running in 2018 and earning the most democratic votes in the state's history at the time, Abrams announced once again that she will be running for Georgia Governor. Abrams continues to advocate for voter rights and brings awareness to voter suppression happening in the U.S.

famous black women  gayle king
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Gayle King

Gayle King is a familiar face that graces the television screens of millions every morning on CBS This Morning. As if being an author, journalist and editor-at-large of Oprah Daily wasn't enough, King also hosts her own on SiriusXM Satellite Radio show, The Gayle King Show.

famous black women  beyonce knowles carter
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Beyoncé Knowles-Carter

Singer, songwriter and actress, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is known for her show stopping performances, record-breaking songs and multiple business ventures. Knowles-Carter has earned 28 Grammy awards and 79 nominations, making her the most Grammy winning and nominated female artist of all time. If you don't snag a piece (or two) from one of the highly anticipated athleisure collections from her brand Ivy Park, then you can catch her at one of her stadium concerts (if you're lucky enough to grab tickets before they're gone, that is).

famous black women  amanda gorman
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Amanda Gorman

The young and established Amanda Gorman shook the world with her outstanding poem, recited at the presidential inauguration. making her the youngest poet in inaugural history. The Harvard graduate has graced multiples stages, reciting her award-winning pieces. Gorman has three books under her belt, including the latest 2021 release titled The Hill We Climb.

famous black women  lupita nyong'o
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Lupita Nyong'o

Actress and women's rights activist Lupita Nyong'o is known for her work in films such as 12 Years a Slave, Star Wars and Black Panther. The Yale graduate made her Broadway debut in 2015 and was nominated for Tony Award for best actress in a play.

famous black women  jurnee smollett
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Jurnee Smollett

Acting vet Jurnee Smollett has been in the industry since she was a child, starring in films such as Eve's Bayou, Selma Lord Selma and The Great Debaters. Most recently, Smollett starred in HBO’s LoveCraft Country, which was nominated for 18 Emmy awards.

famous black women  allyson felix
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Allyson Felix

Allyson Felix is a five-time Olympian, starring in her first Olympic games 2004 — earning her latest medal during the Tokyo Olympics for the 400 meter and 400-meter relay. Felix has earned 11 Olympic medals including 7 gold, 3 sliver and 1 bronze.

famous black women  oprah winfrey
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Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey might be best known for her television show but "talk show host" is just one of her many titles. Not only does she have her own network (OWN), magazine and website, but the primetime and daytime Emmy award winner is constantly breaking boundaries and creating new platforms. Most recently, she set streaming records with her interviews with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and then Adele — but this is just the tip of the iceberg when looking at all Winfrey has accomplished.

famous black women  misty copeland
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Misty Copeland

Starting her ballet career at 13, Misty Copeland joined the American Ballet Theater studio company in 2000, and the following year, joined ABT as a member of corps de ballet. After continuous work with American Ballet Theater, she became the company's second African American female soloist. In 2015, she became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in the company’s almost century-long history.

famous black women  maxine waters
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Maxine Waters

Congresswoman Maxine Waters is a representative of California's 43rd district and advocate for women, children and people of color. During her 15th term in the U.S. House of Representatives, the California State University graduate gained much attention for her powerful response during a 2017 hearing of the House Financial Service Committee. "I'm reclaiming my time," the congresswoman said after the Treasury Secretary tried to avoid her question. #ReclamingMyTime shortly started trending across social media, inspiring other women to stand up for themselves.

famous black women marsai martin
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Marsai Martin

Entrepreneur, producer and actress Marsai Martin managed to accomplish all of the previously mentioned titles before the age of 18. Known for her role on television show Black-ish, Martin expanded her resume in 2019 with her film Little, which she stared and produced. In 20222 she launched her company Mari, a luxury press on nail and nail care line.

famous black women  shonda rhimes
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Shonda Rhimes

Screenwriter, producer and author Shonda Rhimes has been in the television and film industry for over 20 years, creating classics such as Princess Diaries 2. She is the producer of the long-running and award-winning show Grey's Anatomy, which started in 2005 and is now on its 18th season.

famous black women  tabria majors
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Tabria Majors

Plus-size fashion model Tabria Majors is helping to break the standard idea of beauty and proves that confidence comes in all different shapes and sizes. Majors has earned major props with her fearless recreations of iconic music moments from artists like Beyoncé and Ciara. She also has released multiple plus-size clothing collaborations with clothing brands like Fashion to Figure and Boohoo, continuing to advocate for plus-size women everywhere.

famous black women  susan rice
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Susan Rice

Author of best-selling memoir Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For, Susan Rice is currently a Domestic Policy Advisor in the Biden Administration. The Stanford and Oxford University alumnus was previously the National Security Advisor and was the first Black woman to serve as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations during the Obama Administration.

famous black women  simone biles
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Simone Biles

The most decorated gymnast of all time, Simone Biles has a combined 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. Biles is not only the most decorated but is the first American woman to win seven national all-around titles and the first female gymnast to win three consecutive World All-Around tiles, all before the age of 25. Biles has graced multiple covers and even had her own Kellogg's Special K cereal box, adorning one of her many gold metals.

famous black women  laverne cox
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Laverne Cox

Known for her role in Orange Is the New Black, Laverne Cox made history by becoming the first transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. The LBGTQIA advocate was also awarded a GLAAD award in 2014 for her work in the transgender community. Cox has graced the covers of Cosmopolitan and Time, and currently stars in the hit show Inventing Anna.

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