We continue our series celebrating Women’s History Month, focusing on Black Women in Art and Literature in the United States. 


During the Civil War and Reconstruction eras, “a growing number of black female artists and writers emerged.” Over the decades, through the Harlem Renaissance, civil rights, and women’s rights movements, into today’s mainstream culture, Black women have historically risen above the limitations that others have set for them. They made, and continue to make, large-scale impacts on today’s society, breaking barriers, drawing on the strength of their ancestors, and creating a path for future artists.


After I decided to be an artist, the first thing that I had to believe was that I, a black woman, could penetrate the art scene and that I could do so without sacrificing one iota of my blackness, or my femaleness, or my humanity.

– Faith Ringgold, 1985


Five different women made their unique mark on American culture over five decades. Meet the now:Black 

The 1880s: Harriet Powers was born into slavery in Georiga in 1837. An American folk artist and quilt maker, her work is considered the “finest examples of nineteenth-century Southern quilting.” Her quilts are stories, recording local legends and stories from the Bible, and are on displace in the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. and Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.


The 1920s: Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller was at the forefront of the Harlem Renaissance and was a poet, painter, theater designer, and sculptor of the Black American experience. Despite being shunned by the Philadelphia art scene because of her race, she became one of the “first African-American female sculptors of importance.”


The 1950s: Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African-American to receive a Pulitzer Prize. Born on the South Side of Chicago, she published her first work at just 13 years old and used her life in the inner city to serve as inspiration for her characters. Annie Allen, a volume that chronicled the life of an ordinary black girl growing up in a neighborhood much like her own, cinched her the Pulitzer.


The 1970s: Betye Saar is a visual storyteller, an accomplished printmaker, and part of the Black Arts Movement in the 1970s. She used the stereotyped African-American figures from folk culture (Aunt Jemima, Uncle Tom, Little Black Sambo) and transformed them into political statements and social protest through the art form of collage and assemblage. 


Who would you add to this list?

Join us next week as we highlight Black Women of Today who are impacting the Art and Literature scene.