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4 Black Women We Forgot Helped Shape American History

grace hamilton first african american woman elected office deep south

These four amazing African-American women whose names may be little known, but their actions are embedded in the fabric of American history.

1. Grace Hamilton
Hamilton was born February 10, 1907, and was the first African-American woman to hold a public office in the Deep South. She was elected to the Georgia General Assembly in 1966. She served her district in Atlanta for 18 years and was known as "the most effective woman legislator the state has ever had." Hamilton was later credited for helping Andrew Young become the first black to represent Atlanta's Fifth District in Congress in 1972.

Before holding public office, Hamilton was the executive director of the Atlanta Urban League (AUL) and led efforts in education, health care, housing, and voting rights for African Americans while still working within the confines of segregation. She held only one other public position, as advisor to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission from January 1985 to January 1987, and passed away on June 17, 1992. 

2. Lucy Smith 
Sixteen-year-old Smith was truly a courageous young woman in what might be one of the most violent times in American history: the era of Reconstruction. She provided testimony before Congress that seven white men, including two police officers, broke into her home and raped her and her friend during the 1866 Memphis Race Riots. The riot lasted a brutal three days in which white policemen and civilians teared into black neighborhoods reportedly injuring 75 people, murdering 46 African Americans and raping at least five black women.

Smith was among a group of several brave black women that spoke against the violence and rapes perpetrated by the white mob. Although Smith’s perpetrators went unpunished her testimonies as well as the testimonies of her fellow women have been described as the earliest organized anti-rape effort in America.

3. Sarah Rector
While lands granted to former slaves and freedmen and women may not have seemed profitable, Rector from the Indian territory of Twine, Oklahoma, certainly proved that wrong. Rector was often described as one of the richest black girls in America after receiving an oil-rich land allotment that was granted to freed slaves and their families. After her father leased her 160-acre portion of land to an oil company, the family realized they were able to generate revenue from the oil on the land.

By 1913, news of Rector's wealth began to spread. Though her life became subject of public scrutiny and media frenzy, Rector managed to lead a modest life with her husband Kenneth Campbell and continues to be a promising symbol of change for many in the black community.

4. Violette Neatly Anderson 
Anderson made history when she became the first black woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1926. But that amazing first was just the culmination of what we think is a fantastic journey of firsts in the field of law. Anderson was also the first woman to graduate law school in Illinois, the first black woman appointed to the position of assistant prosecuting attorney in Chicago, and the first black woman vice-president of the Cook County Bar Association serving from 1920 to 1926.

Her amazing career kicked off after she worked for 15 years as a court reporter, which sparked her interest in law. In 1920, she earned her LL.B. at Chicago Law School. Her remarkable journey is proof that hard work and dedication can bring you to the forefront of positive change.

We're hoping these trailblazing leaders continue to inspire women to pursue their dreams, even when they're presented with challenges along the way. 

NEXT: The African-American Suffragists History Forgot »

Related Stories:
5 Things You Didn't Know About the First African-American Woman to Fly a Plane
African American Women's Firsts: Part One

Photo Credit: Twitter