Her skin is burnished bronze.
Her two-toned locks flow from under a helmet. Her legs are wrapped tightly around the flagpole on the grounds of South Carolina’s Capitol building.
“She” is filmmaker Bree Newsome.
It is June 27, 2015, and the then-30-year-old is a woman with a mission. She has scaled this structure to remove the Confederate flag, a vile symbol of separatism and bigotry … a relic of the Civil War and the South’s fierce fight to keep our people enslaved.
Newsome has decided she isn’t going to look up in the sky and see that symbol billowing in the air, not 12 days after nine Black people were slaughtered by a racist madman in a Charleston, S.C. church. The flag of the Confederacy has flown there too long already, by her estimation, and on this summer day she will not be stopped. Police yell warnings and directives from the ground, but she shimmies downward, dragging her target with her. She responds to their threats of arrest with Psalm 27 and the Lord’s Prayer. It is in this moment that Newsome transcends from protester to pop culture icon.
And it is also in this instant that Newsome—who has no choice but to be a first—joins the rest of Black womanhood. No choice but to be a groundbreaker. No choice but to risk it all so that justice can be done. That’s why she is a fitting symbol to introduce this special EBONY issue dedicated to 100-plus Black women who have made a remarkable difference in the lanes they have chosen. From our gorgeous, intelligent, elegant and eloquent former First Lady Michelle Obama to educator-civil rights juggernaut Dorothy Height to the incomparable actress-activist Ruby Dee to the media mogul known as Oprah to literary giant (late, great) Octavia Butler, we are recognizing the raw power Black women wield in our society.
Each individual has earned her place through community action, excellence in entertainment, musical genius, scientific achievement, sporting prowess and overall cultural excellence.
John H. Johnson, esteemed founder of EBONY and JET magazines, knew this perhaps better than anyone. That is why we could pore through our archives and easily uncover images of and articles about the beautifully melanated mamas, sisters, cousins, aunties, nieces and daughters who have shaped this country for the better.
In fact, because our bench is so deep and so wide, we couldn’t include everyone in this inaugural list of dynamos, but the good news is we plan to make this very necessary celebration and commemoration an annual event.
Like Newsome, all of these women are fearless. Like Newsome, they are fierce.
Nothing was handed to them. They worked for it. They resisted the urges of naysayers and haters who yelled up from the ground and told them they wouldn’t make it and advised them to “get down.”
We owe them our gratitude, our adulation and our respect. We owe them the duty of passing their stories onward and upward. But above all, we owe them a promise to continue their climb, no matter how treacherous or thankless it is guaranteed to be.