African American women, patriot and loyalist
Dunmore's Proclamation: A Time to Choose
Early Life & Career of Henry Clinton
Lord Dunmore
Presidential Proclamation: National African American History Month, 2012
U.S. Department of Defense (2012)

Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute
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Slideshow: Black Women in Politics

Video: Meet Madame CJ Walker

Video: Harriet Tubman and the underground Railroad

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Black History Month, February 2012



February is National Black History Month. The theme for this year is Black Women in American Culture and History.

The labors, struggles, organization, and sacrifices of African American women have often gone unnoticed despite their heavy involvement in churches, community groups, literary societies, sororities, and advocacy organizations inside and outside of the African American community.

This month is dedicated to exploring African American women's roles and contributions and how they helped to shape our nation.

African American Women in the American Revolution

During the American Revolution, African American women played a vital role to the patriots and the loyalists during the war.

In April 1775, Lord Dunmore, governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation of martial law against rebellious sentiments in the Virginia Assembly. He knew that the southern economy relied heavily on slave labor and offered freedom for all slaves and indentured servants "that are able and willing to bear arms."

The proclamation was intended to scare the white slaveholders of Virginia and encourage Slaves, particularly men, to create slave rebellion based on the ideology of equality. However, one third of all slaves that responded to Dunmore's Proclamation were women.

The men who responded to the Proclamation and fought for the loyalists were followed by their wives-- who cooked, cleaned and took care of the men while they were at war.

In June 1776, General Henry Clinton also promised something similar with the Phillipsburg Proclamation. Male and female slaves joined the Loyalist army but women made musket cartridges and butchered and preserved meat for the army. Slave women who knew the territory served as guides to the soldiers.

African American women were also essential to the patriots during the war. They made up the bulk of the workforce dedicated to repairing and building the fortifications used during the sieges of Savannah, Charleston and other low country towns and cities.

After the war some slaves petitioned for their freedom. The most famous case was Elizabeth Freeman, who in 1781 declared slavery was unconstitutional under the new Massachusetts constitution. Her case went on to set precedent for another case two years later.  

Influential African American Women

Today, many know of the accomplishments of famous African American women like: Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Madame CJ Walker, Bessie Smith and Zora Neale Hurston; but they may be less familiar with just as influential African American women like: Belva Davis, Mary Bowser, or Maggie Lena Walker.

Belva Davis

Belva Davis

Belva Davis was the first black female television news reporter on the West Coast. She was also the first black woman to have her own radio show in 1962, dubbed "The Belva Davis Show." Davis chronicled her life in a book called "Never in My Wildest Dreams: A Black Woman's Life in Journalism," was released in Feb. 2011. Read More...

Mary BowserMary Bowser and Elizabeth Van Lew

Mary Bowser was a freed slave of the mid-1800s who made a formal career out of spying for the Union Army against the Confederacy during the Civil War. Bowser was owned by John Van Lew, who died in 1851, leaving his plantation to his daughter, Elizabeth. After he passed, Elizabeth, an abolitionist, freed all the family's slaves and offered Bowser an education. Elizabeth also re-purchased Bowser's family, who had been sold when she was a child.

When Elizabeth recognized Bowser's intelligence level, she offered her a job in espionage against the Confederacy and taught Bowser how to be a spy. Read More...

Maggie WalkerMaggie Lena Walker

Maggie Lena Walker was the first woman in the United States to become a president of a local bank. Walker was said to have a "golden touch," and helped the Black community in many ways. She organized and served as president of the St. Luke Educational Fund, which helped Black children get an education; was national director of the NAACP; and was appointed by several Virginia governors to various posts. Read More...