National Women History Month: Black Women Through History

Black women have loomed large through history and are at last getting the recognition that they so rightfully deserve across all facets of life, be they art, cinema, culture, politics, and even the United States' history. 

Laura Wheeler Waring is one of those figures. Born in 1887, no one would have thought that she would go on to loom large in the sphere of art history. She was a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance, a pivotal moment in United States history. Beginning in the early 1920s and lasting through till the 40s, it was a time when African Americans across the US but especially in the Harlem neighborhood, participated in an explosion of arts and creative culture. Warring loomed large during this time. Her paintings depicted Black men and women as they were – working individuals who, even while being ignored by the society around them, lived full, complete, and complex lives. Her deep colors and the impressionist vibrancy of her work belies the impressive training she received, having studied in Paris under Cezanne, Corot, and the greatest of all of the impressionist artists – Monet. She taught art for more than 30 years at Cheyney University in Pennsylvania.

Aurora James is a modern leading Black figure in fashion design. She designed principally for Brother Vellies and was born in Toronto, Canada. Now living in New York City, her designs incorporate traditional African techniques with a modern spin. Before she founded Brother Vellies in 2013, she variously worked in fashion, journalism, art, photography, and even horticulture. She blends all of her worlds through the lens of her Black identity to create truly inspiring and one-of-a-kind pieces. The fruits of her labor show – her works have been worn and celebrated by Beyonce, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Rihanna, Serena Williams, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Chrissy Teigen. In June of 2020, James founded the Fifteen Percent Pledge, an initiative that urges retail stores to commit up to 15% of their shelf space to products created by Black artists and entrepreneurs. It helps businesses develop attainable targets that will then serve to benefit Black-owned enterprises in fundamental, tangible ways. The Pledge diverted up to 5 billion dollars in capital to Black entrepreneurs across the United States and abroad within the first year. Aurora James is truly a leading figure dedicated to making a difference.

Aurora James and Laura Wheeler Warring both have in common the creative passion that allowed them to express the beauty of their ethnicity through great creative pursuits. Both women serve as inspirational figures for Black women and girls worldwide. They show that Black women can be leaders in their chosen industries and be celebrated by the wealthy and the established for their accomplishments, with those same accomplishments echoing throughout history and serving to inspire others long after they are gone.